Spicy Saffron

Saffron was and always will remain a difficult plant to cultivate and the hardest spice to produce, and through history was the most expensive spice (a few strands will set you back about R10 today or about R20,000/kg [$3,000]). It was cultivated from ancient times but its cultivation in Europe declined steeply following the fall of the Roman Empire. For several centuries thereafter, saffron cultivation was rare or non-existent throughout Europe. This was reversed when Muslim civilisation spread to Spain as well as parts of France and southern Italy.

Today, thanks to Muslims, Spain is the biggest exporter of saffron in the world. The process of harvesting is still done by hand, it takes 45 - 55 minutes to pick 1000 flowers and 370 - 470 man hours to produce 1kg of the spice. The flowers are picked, exactly when they are fully bloomed, and the saffron strand or stigma is at its reddest. The harvesting must begin shortly after dawn, if left exposed to the sun, the saffron will quickly loose its color and flavour, and wither under the sun's light. When the saffron flowers are picked, they are then placed in baskets and the three delicate strands are pinched from each flower. It takes 450 000 - 550 000 strands to produce to produce 1kg of the spice.The strands are then carefully dried, by placing them in a silk sieve over glowing charcoal embers for about 20 - 45 minutes. Although there are now modern methods of drying saffron, such as dehydration, in most cases, age old methods are still employed, such as drying the saffron in the sun.

Thanks to Muslims, the world is still spicing food up with Saffron.