Saffron Nutrition Facts back to Homepage

Saffron is one of the highly prized spices known since antiquity for its color, flavor and medicinal properties. It is the dried "stigma" or threads of the flower of the S. crocus plant. The plant is a bulbous perennial plant that belongs to the family of iridaceae of the genus, Crocus and known botanically as Crocus sativus.
This exotic spice is a native of Asia Minor and now cultivated worldwide in many countries, particularly in Afghanistan, Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, and Iran and in Jammu & Kashmir state of India.

The Crocus sativus plant grows to about 15-20cm in height and bears lavender colored flowers during each season which lasts from October till November. Each flower features perianth which consists of stalk, known as “style”, connecting to the three “stigmas” or threads to the rest of the plant. These orange-yellow colored stigmas along with the style constitute "saffron" which is used as spice.
Good crop production demands cool dry climate with well drained rich fertile soil and irrigation facilities or sufficient amount of rain fall. The flowers are generally harvested during the early morning hours and soon the stigma separated, allowed to dry and packed for marketing.
Saffron has distinct flavor because of the chemical components in it picrocrocin and safranal. It also contains a natural carotenoid chemical compound, crocin, which gives saffron its golden-yellow hue. These traits along with its medicinal properties make it a valuable ingredient in many foods worldwide.

Health benefits of Saffron

  • Saffron contains many plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have anti-oxidant, disease preventing and health promoting properties.
  • The flower stigma are composed of many essential volatile oils but the most important being safranal, which gives saffron its distinct hay-like flavor. Other volatile oils in saffron are 3,5,5-trimethyl-4-hydroxy-1-cyclohexanone-2-ene, cineole, phenethenol, pinene,  borneol, geraniol, limonene, p-cymene, linalool,  terpinen-4-oil, etc.
  • This spice has many non-volatile active components; the most important of them is α-crocin, a carotenoid compound, which gives the stigmas their characteristic golden yellow color.  It also contains other carotenoids including zeaxanthin, lycopene, α- and β-carotenes. These are important antioxidants that helps protect body from oxidant induced stress, cancers, infections and acts as immune modulators.
  • The active components in saffron have many therapeutic applications in many traditional medicines as antiseptic, antidepressant, anti-oxidant, digestive, anti-convulsant.
  • This novel spice is a good source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium. Potassium in an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese and copper are used by the body as co-factors for the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase. Iron is essential for red blood cell production and as a co-factor for cytochrome oxidases enzymes.
  • It is also rich in many vital vitamins including vitamin A, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin-C that are essential for optimum health.


Medicinal uses

  • The active components present in saffron have many therapeutic applications in many traditional medicines since long time ago as anti-spasmodic, carminative, diaphoretic.
  • Research studies have shown that, safranal, a volatile oil found in the spice, has antioxidant, cytotoxicity towards cancer cells, anticonvulsant and antidepressant properties.
  • Αlfa-crocin, a carotenoid compound, which gives the spice its characteristic golden yellow color, has anti-oxidant, anti-depressant, and anti-cancer properties.


Selection and storage

Fresh saffron is available in the special spice markets. Try to buy dried whole stigma instead of powdered saffron since oftentimes it may adulterated. Choose well sealed pack from the authentic selling company which includes date of package and date of expiry.
Fresh spice should feature bright orange-yellow hue and each thread like stigma measuring 2 to 4cm in length. Avoid inferior quality product featuring grey color streaks or light spots on the stigma. This spice has characteristic pungent bitter-honey taste with pleasant aroma.
Store in closed box and keep it in cool dark place away from the light since light rays oxidizes the pigments in saffron and offsets its flavor.


Culinary uses

A pinch of fresh saffron is enough to enhance the flavor and color the entire recipe. 
There are several methods to use it in the kitchen. Whole stigma can be added directly to the preparations, or oftentimes, the stigma are grounded and powdered using traditional hand mill and added to the recipes. In the third method, a pinch of saffron is added to a cup of hot water, steep; add this water to the recipes.
Here are some serving tips:

  • Its stigmas have been used as flavoring base and coloring agent in both food and drinks in Mediterranean, Asian cuisines.
  • It has been in use in the preparation of sweet dishes in many Indian, Pakistani and Cental Asian countries. It is also used as a color and flavoring base in the preparation of ice-creams, cakes and drinks.

Safety profile

High doses of saffron can cat as uterine stimulant and in severe cases can cause miscarriage. Therefore pregnant woman may be advised to avoid it in their dishes.

Medical disclaimer: The information and reference guides in this website are intended solely for the general information for the reader. It is not to be used to diagnose health problems or for treatment purposes. It is not a substitute for medical care provided by a licensed and qualified health professional. Please consult your health care provider for any advice on medications.)


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