Saffron - All you need to know

Saffron - All you need to know

Saffron is a spice cultivated from the Crocus sativus flower, also known as the 'saffron crocus'. It is made by collecting and drying the vibrant red stigma and styles, called threads, from the flower.

What are the origins of Saffron?

Many people speculate that it was first found in Iran, but certain Greek islands are also potential contenders. It was introduced to China, India, and the Middle East, before travelling to Mediterranean Europe. At present, Iran, Greece, Morocco, India, Spain and Italy are the world’s top saffron producers.

Why is it known as the world's most expensive spice?

Saffron crocus flowers are ready to be harvested around autumn time. The flowers must be harvested by hand, before or immediately after sunrise so that they are not damaged by the heat from direct sunlight. The flowers are extremely delicate and many growers believe mechanical plucking damages the flowers.

Each flower produces only 3 stigmas and once the flowers have been harvested, its stigmas must be plucked and dried for around 12 hours. It takes between 15,000-16,000 flowers to produce 1 kilogram of saffron spice. In terms of labour, producing this amount takes 400 to 500 hours! It is this labour-intensive cultivating process that makes saffron so expensive.

Saffron in Morocco

Ask any visitor what is the most captivating thing about Morocco and they will definitely talk about the vibrant colours of this beautiful African country. The Moroccan culture has always shown a profound inclination towards the use of bright colours in their clothes, utensils, art and craft, and home décor.  

On visiting a local Moroccan market, called a Souk, you will definitely encounter heaps of whole as well as grounded spices stacked outside the shops to attract your senses. Although all these spices have specific importance in Moroccan cuisines, there is one special spice that stands out, and it’s Saffron.  

This semi-sweet yet slightly bitter-tasting spice is used in a number of Moroccan recipes. It not only adds flavour to Moroccan meals but also adds a vivid crimson colour to them. However, it is used in a minimal amount. Usually, a pinch of saffron is enough to enhance the flavour and colour of a meal. Moreover, it is also used as a dye to colour clothes red or orange, and let’s not forget that it’s also used as an essential ingredient in perfumes and cosmetic items. Along with these uses, this expensive spice is considered very useful in the medical world too. It is used several herbal medications to treat toothaches, severe menstrual cramps and improve appetite and detoxifying process of the body.

In Morocco, saffron is cultivated in a small town known as Taliouine. The town is located in the edge of the Sirwa Mountains and you can visit it whenever you want. Visitors can visit saffron farms, see the picking of the flowers, buy fresh saffron and learn more in-depth about its history and uses.

How Saffron is used in Moroccan cooking?

Saffron is an essential ingredient in Moroccan cuisine, I always have it in my kitchen and try to use it where possible. No matter what I’m cooking, a pinch of it is just what my dishes need to get that fragrant flavour and give it that extra touch. I love using it in tea and of course tagines, it’s that special.

For tea: In our Moroccan mint tea, we usually add some threads of Saffron to the tea to make it more flavourful and give it a flowery scent.

For cooking: while cooking, we might use Saffron in very different ways, either we add it as threads at first, or, fill a glass with hot water, put some Saffron threads in it, and let it sit there for a couple of minutes and then use the water to flavour the dishes.

For baking: We might sometimes use Saffron as a way to add some flavour to our bakeries and cookies by adding it crushed to the dough.

Saffron is certainly essential in Moroccan cuisine, so, have you ever tasted it or used it in one of your dishes?