Saffron - The world’s most costly spice
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The world’s most costly spice – Saffron (Crocus sativus)

Crocus sativus

Magnification: 21:1

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Hand-colored scanning electron micrograph (SEM) showing the pistil of a Saffron (Crocus sativus) created by Martin Oeggerli.

Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the “saffron crocus”. The vivid crimson stigmas and styles, called threads, are collected and dried to be used mainly as a seasoning and colouring agent in food.

Saffron, long among the world’s most costly spices by weight, was probably first cultivated in or near Greece. Its recorded history is attested in a 7th-century BC and it has been traded and used for over four millennia. Iran now accounts for approximately 90% of the world production of saffron.Saffron’s taste and iodoform or hay-like fragrance result from the chemicals picrocrocin and safranal. It also contains a carotenoidpigment, crocin, which imparts a rich golden-yellow hue to dishes and textiles. Saffron contains more than 150 volatile and aroma-yielding compounds. It also has many nonvolatile active components, many of which are carotenoids, including zeaxanthin, lycopene, and various α- and β-carotenes. However, saffron’s golden yellow-orange colour is primarily the result of α-crocin.