Saffron is the most precious and expensive spice in the world. The Saffron filaments, or threads, are actually the dried stigmas of the saffron flower, "Crocus Sativus Linneaus". Each flower contains only three stigmas. These threads must be picked from each flower by hand, and more than 75,000 of these flowers are needed to produce just one pound of Saffron filaments.
"Crocus Sativus Linneaus" contains crocin, the source of its strong coloring property, bitter-crocin, which offers the distinctive aroma and taste and essential oils, which are responsible for its therapeutic properties.
Saffron is well known since the beginning of its production for its healing attributes and its use in gastronomy. Today, the greatest saffron producing countries are Greece, Spain, Turkey, Iran, India, and Morocco. The largest saffron importers are Germany, Italy, U.S.A., Switzerland, U.K., and France.
It was not defined well when saffron cultivation began, but it is believed that this might have happened during Prehistoric Greek times. The excavations in Knossos, Crete, and Akrotiri in the island of Santorini brought to light some frescoes where saffron is depicted.
The most famous of these frescoes is the 'saffron gatherer', where it was depicted that there was a monkey amongst the yellow saffron flowers. Etymologically, the word crocus has its origin from the Greek word "croci" which means the weft, thread used for weaving on a loom. Mythologically, according to Ovidius, the plant took its name from the youth Crocus, who after witnessing in despair the death of fair Smilax was transformed into this flower.
Known since antiquity, saffron it was one of the most desired and expensive spices of ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Romans for its aroma, color and aphrodisiac properties. It was quite popular among the Phoenician traders, who carried it wherever they traveled. The ancient Assyrians used saffron for medical purposes.
Hippocrates and other Greek doctors of his time, like Dioskourides and Galinos mention crocus as a drug or a therapeutic herb. It is referred throughout ancient history and in the course of many medical writings of the classical Greek and Roman times all the way to the Middle Ages. Another saffron use in ancient Greece was that of perfumery.
The history of red saffron in modern Greece starts in the 17th century when red saffron was cultivated in the area of Kozani in Macedonia. For more than 300 years, Greek red saffron is systematically cultivated under the warmth of the Greek sun, in the rich soil of a unique area including many small towns of Kozani in West Macedonia.
As a therapeutical plant, saffron it is considered an excellent stomach ailment and an antispasmodic, helps digestion and increases appetite. It is also relieves renal colic, reduces stomachaches and relieves tension. It is also a fact that even since antiquity, crocus was attributed to have aphrodisiac properties. Many writers along with Greek mythology sources associate crocus with fertility. Crocus in general is an excellent stimulant.
As a spice it is used for colouring and flavor improving while giving a distinct aroma and a beautiful golden color. There is a great list of foods where saffron is added including cheese products such as cottage cheese and parmesan, soups, chicken and meat, various spirits, pasta and rice. To use saffron, either infuse a few threads in a cup of hot water and add the colored liquid towards the end of cooking, or crumble the threads and add directly to the pot.
Alternatively, dry roast, crumble and then steep the crumbled threads. Unlike other spices, a good pinch will suffice to add flavor and color most dishes. Cook with red Greek saffron and indulge in its excellent flavor.
The Kozani Saffron is globally accepted as one of the highest quality. According to the European Union Law (378/1999), the Kozani Saffron has been accepted and established as a Greek product, and so Greece is the only country that has the right to produce it. The quality production and packing methods of the Kozani Saffron has a major contribution to the international promotion of the Greek products.