History of Saffron
Saffron pigments have been found in prehistoric paints used to depict beasts on cave art that dates back 50,000 years in the area that is modern day Iran. Saffron threads have been found interwoven into ancient Persian royal carpets and funeral shrouds that date back to the 10th century BC. Analysis of these saffron threads pints to them being harvested in Derbena, Isfahan and Khorasan, Iran.
Saffron was first documented in an Assyrian botanical reference compiled under Ashurbanipal, an Assyrian king (who reigned from 668-627 BC). Ashurbanipal was a strong warrior king who was also known for accumulating a substantial collection of cuneiform documents (one of the earliest systems of writing which was done on clay tablets) for his royal palace at Nineveh (located on the outskirts of Mosul in modern-day northern Iraq).
The earliest recordings of saffron in Greek culture dates back to Bronze Age (3200-600 BC). A saffron harvest is shown in the Knossos palace frescoes of Minoan Crete, which depict the flowers being picked by young girls and monkeys. Frescoes are the source of some of the most striking imagery and are a type of mural painting done upon freshly-laid, or wet lime plaster. This gives some of the first evidence that saffron was involved in long-distance trade.
Saffron’s appearance in South and East Asia has various accounts of how and exactly where it first arrived but the earliest Persian records suggest that after ancient Persia conquered Kashmir they had saffron and various spices sent to them to stock their newly built gardens. The first Persian saffron crocus corms were transplanted to Kashmiri soil and where harvested prior to 500 BC.
Saffron was also favored by Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC) and his forces during their Asian campaigns. Saffron was added to teas and used to make saffron rice. Alexander also had saffron added to his bath water as he came to believe that it help heal his many wounds suffered in battle.
One of the earliest references to the use of saffron in Ancient Egypt had it used by Cleopatra (69 BC – 30 BC) and other Pharaohs as an aromatic and seductive essence. Because Egypt does not have the correct climate to grow the flower this also suggests that it must have been brought to the area from further north or the Persian Empire. Saffron was introduced into Spain by the Moors who are credited with planting it throughout the southern provinces of Andalucia, Castile, La Mancha, and Valencia.
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Saffron Powder is just plain saffron threads grounded and made into powder form for easier use. Use a mortar and pestle to crush the saffron threads or grind saffron threads to make it into powder. You can add saffron powder directly to a dish without toasting or pre-soaking. Powdered saffron dissolves easily into foods, evenly flavoring the entire dish. Use half the amount of powdered saffron if your recipe calls for saffron threads. While powdered saffron provides the rich gold color associated with paella and other dishes, there will not be any visible threads in your finished dish.
Can you use saffron powder instead of threads?
Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, so when you use it, you have to use it correctly. You’ll find saffron in two forms, threads and powder. Saffron threads are the whole stigma from the saffron crocus, while saffron powder has been gently dried and ground. Whichever form of saffron you choose, it should be high quality and pure, without the addition of paprika, turmeric or other spices.
Saffron Threads are the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus flower. You cannot just add saffron threads to your dish. The threads need heat to activate there flavor and color. To draw out the color and to ensure that it’s evenly distributed throughout the dish it’s to be added to, steep saffron threads in a little warm water, stock, milk or white wine for about 30 minutes before using. Then add the liquid to the dish, usually towards the end of cooking.
Does Powder Saffron Go Bad?
Saffron powder is one of the most expensive spices in the world, so naturally, you want to make the most of your stash. And if you already store it for a while, the question “does saffron go bad?” comes up inevitably. Or maybe you’ve found a great deal on saffron and are debating if stocking up makes sense. Since the price of saffron is quite high due to a quite complicated process of collecting the saffron strands, taking advantage of a sale makes sense.
But on the other hand, you only use the spice from time to time, so buying in bulk would mean you buy enough of it for a few years. And you’re not quite sure the spice retains potency for such a long period.
Side Effects & Safety
Saffron is LIKELY SAFE in food amounts. Saffron is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth as a medicine for up to 26 weeks. Some possible side effects include dry mouth, anxiety, agitation, drowsiness, low mood, sweating, nausea or vomiting, constipation or diarrhea, change in appetite, flushing, and headache. Allergic reactions can occur in some people.
Taking large amounts of saffron by mouth is POSSIBLY UNSAFE. High doses of 5 grams or more can cause poisoning. Doses of 12-20 grams can cause death.
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