The colouring, scenting, flavouring and medicinal properties of saffron are due to two basic (acting) components: picrocrocin and crocin, especially in the unsweetened parts of them i.e. in the safranal of the first and the crocetin of the latter. Other ingredients of saffron are lycopene, zeaxanthin, α, β and γ-carotenes, vitamin B and B2, carbohydrates and essential oil.
From picrocrocin via enzymatic hydrolysis we get the unsweetend part which in turn is converted to saffranol, the main component of essential oil, that gives saffron its characteristic scent.
From crocin with acid we get the unsweetened part, crocetin, which is the main colouring part of the product. In the market, the percentage of the essential oil and the colouring strength of saffron (which should be as high as possible) basically defines its quality.
Saffron is used in various ways
It is used in pharmacy, confectionery, cooking, cheese-making, distillery, even in painting. Byzantine artists used it considerably. In popular medicine it is used as a emmenagogue, antispasmodic and stimulant. Many experts argue that in small doses it relieves kidney pains, stimulates the appetite and it facilitates digestion. In addition it limits convulsions, hysterics, nervous colics and whooping cough. Externally it is used to cure pimples, inflamations and breast diseases.
From ancient times, saffron was considered to have aphrodisiac properties. Many authors, Greek mythology, even Old Testament itself, associate saffron with love-making and fertility.
Nowadays, it is still used extensively as a spice in various foods in every economically developed country, especially in Europe.
In India, it is used widely as an icense in religious ceremonies, as well as in painting the mantles of the priests, a custom that ancient Egyptians and Romans also had.
The cultivation of edible saffron is made for the reddish stigmas of its flower (three columns of pistil), which is a product of high pharmaceutical, collouring, flavoring and scenting value.
Cultivating species of Saffron & special herbal characteristics.
The only kind of saffron that is systematically cultivated around the world, for at least ten centuries, is the edible saffron or as it known in scientific (botanical) terminology Crocus Sativus Linneaus. The special botanical features of this kind of saffron are:
Diameter of about 2-3cm, fleshy with spherical shape with brown meshy tunics.
There can be up to three flowers from each bulb, which come out in October/November and they form small bristled cones, which after some hours they open losing their first shape.
These consist of:
- Six navy-purple petals, 4-5cm in length and 1cm in width
- Three yellow stamens
- The column which is divided into three stigmas
- The ovary which is narrow and contains many brown, round shaped sperms
The stigmas in particular, which give the prodrug of the plant, are glossy coloured red to orange and their length is 40-50mm, together with the part of the column. On the top they are jagged and because of their weight they are drooping; many times outside of the cone formed by the petals.
The leaves that come out directly from the bulb are deepgreen, sword-like and streaked. They grow during the winter and in spring they reach 40-50cm, at which point they are harvested just before they dry out.
Cultivated Area - Land - Annual Production
The only saffron-cultivated area in Greece is the region of Kozani, in some villages of which (Krokos, Ano Komi, Kato Komi, Karyditsa, Kozani, Agia Paraskevi, Aiani, Vathilakos, Kesaria,etrana, Lefkopigi, etc.) there has been systematic cultivation for many years.
After many fluctuations in cultivation land areas and the threat of its complete dissapearance during the early postwar years (1941-1950), it now covers roughly about 500 acres, 250 of which, is land used for organic cultivation, distributed thoughtout the land areas of Kozani prefecture.
In recent years, the annual production was around 3,000 to 4,000kg of red saffron.
Cultivating Process of The Plant
The following cultivating process, as it is true for any product, varies from country to country depending on the climate and soil conditions, the long tradition, experience, expertise and ability of each country’s producers to adapt to new developments.
Harvesting the flowers and splitting the stigmas and stamens from the petals
The flowers that start to grow in mid-October are picked by groups, usually consisting of women, put in their aprons or baskets and taken to their houses in hampers. This laborious work, which requires a degree of certain skills, is taking place from sunrise until sunset and lasts 20 to 25 days.
Drying And Sorting Of Saffron
The drying of the stigmas is the single most important and delicate task and requires experience, great care and skills.
If saffron dries normally, it preserves its characteristic properties (colour-aroma) while at the same time its quality improves, without losing its colouring strength and its essential oil.
After the drying, the separation of red stigmas from the yellow stamens, the pollen and any impurities, begins.
This part of the process, which is done by hand, can last from 20 to 60 days. Finally, the dried product is separated based on the colour (red or yellow) ready for delivery.
Crop Yield And Plantation Span
The average produce per acre is 6kg of dried stigmas (red product).
The lower production of the plant is on the first year of the plantation, while the highest on the third and the fourth.
The gathering of the saffron product in the Cooperative starts immediately after the drying, sorting and purifying the stigmas.
The large quantities of Kozani’s saffron are sold in stigmas which are packaged and sold in the market in small packs of 0.5, 1, 2, 4 and 28gr. Saffron in such packages is intended for use as flavoring in various foods.
The label on the packaging includes the following:
- The botanical and commercial name of the product.
- The net weight.
- The product category.
- Country of production.
- Any other indication that the buyer requests or serves the customer.
Product consumer countries
Consumer countries are considered to be the following:
Spain, Italy, France, U.S.A., Switzerland, England, Germany, Scandinavia, The Netherlands, U.A.E. and Japan.
Form in which the product is available
- Saffron is normally available in the form of a flexible, soft, elastic and hygroscopic mass of whole threads from the dried stigmas of the Crocus Sativus Linneaus.
- In the form of powder after the grinding of its red threads.
Quality classification and Quality standards of Saffron
In trading, the edible saffron is basically distinguished by the name of the region that it was produced, which constitutes the first rough quality ranking, since all buyers know the quality condition of each product area. The Greek red saffron is marketed as “Krokos Kozanis”.
Regardless of the aforementioned distinction of saffron, externally its quality is determined by the colour, flavour and size of the stigmas. More specifically the quality characteristics of good saffron are:
- Moisture and Volatile Matter: max 12
- Picrocrocin (category 1): min 70
- Safranal: 20 < x < 50
- Colouring strength: category Ι: min 200, category II: min 170, category III: min 120