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Iranian Saffron


Saffron is the flower known scientifically as Crocus sativus L.  The Encyclopedia Americana states that this word derives from the Greek Corycus , the name of an area in Cilicia in the eastern Mediterranean.  Some believe saffron to have originated in the Media of ancient Iran (7th century BC); others believe it has its origins in a wider area of the earth including Greece, turkey, Asia Minor and Iran Saffron, Crocus sativus Linnaeus, is a stem less perennial grass plant with a round sub-soil corm of 3-5cm diameter. Each corm produces 6 to 8 leaves similar to grass weeds.  The short sprinkle roots grow at the base and circumference of the corm .  i

The first part to appear in early autumn is the flower. The flower consists of three sepals and  three petals of the same lilac color which makes them hardly distinguishable. There are three stamens, and filaments are twice as long as the anthers.  Out of the single-ovule ovary in the center of the flower grows a long thin style of a light yellow color which ends in a triple stigma of 2-3 cm length and bright orange red color.  It is the dried stigmas (and style) that saffron the spice consists of. The stigmas of the saffron flower contain many chemical substances.  There are carbohydrates, minerals, musilage, vitamins (especially riboflavin and thiamin) and pigments including crocin, anthocianin, carotene, lycopene and zigzantin.  i

There is also an aromatic essence turpenic(safranal), and picrocrocin which gives saffron its distinctive flavor.

Saffron flowers are normally harvested in mid auntumn.  The flowers are picked by hand.  The flowers begin to grow after the first irrigation and the blooming period in southern Khorasan is usually late October to late November, and of course this depends on environmental and farming conditions.  Harvest is completed in at most twenty days. i

In the food processing industry saffron is used as a colorant in sausages, margarine, butter, cheese and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.  It is also used for coloring and flavor in ice-cream and sauces and dressings.

It has also been used in the treatment of ailments such as dysentery, measles, enlargement of the liver and gall bladder and urological infections .

Botany

Saffron, Crocus sativas Linnaeus, is a stemless perennial grass plant with a round sub-soil corm of 3-5cm diameter.

Each corm produces 6 to 8 leaves similar to grass weeds. The short sprinkle roots grow at the base and circumference of the corm .

The first part to appear in early autamn is the flower. However, in the first year after planting, because the corms are too weak and not properly established in the deep soil yet, the flower buds are not stong enough to develop and even the leaves come out later than usual. The flower consists of three sepals and three petals of the same lilac color which makes them hardly distinguishable.

There are three stamens with filaments twice as long as the anthers. Out of the single-ovule ovary in the center of the flower grows a long thin style of a light yellow color which ends in a triple stigma of 2-3 cm length and bright orange red color. It is the dried style and stigmas that or saffron the spice.

The anatomy of saffron is shown in the illustration.

 
Chemical Composition

The stigmas of the saffron flower contain many chemical substances.  There are carbohydrates, minerals, musilage, vitamins (especially riboflavin and thiamin) and pigments including crocin, anthocianin, carotene, lycopene and zigzantin. 

 There is also an aromatic essence turpenic (safranal), and picrocrocin which gives saffron its distinctive flavor.

 The saffron stigma, which is what basically forms commercial saffron, has a distinct and unique color, flavor and aroma and some of the groups of chemical compounds responsible for each of these properties have now been identified.

 Color

Saffron’s coloring power is mainly produced by crocin (chemical composition: C44   H64   O24), which is one of the few naturally occurring  carotenoids easily soluble in water.

 This water solubility is one of the reasons for its widely preferred application as a colorant in food and medicine.

 Chemical Composition of Crocin:  In addition to crocin saffron contains aglicon crocetin as a free agent and small amounts of  the pigment anthocianin.  There are also oil soluble pigments including alphacarotene, betacarotene and zegxantin.  One of the most important parameters in evaluating the quality of saffron is its coloring power, which is determined by measuring by spectrophotometry the amount of coloring factors present at 443 nanometers. 

Flavor

The principal element giving saffron its special “bitter” flavor is the glycosid picrocrocin (C16 H26 O7).  This bitter tasting substance can be crystalized and produces glucose and the aldehyde safranal by hydrolysis.   

Aroma

Saffron has a strong aroma which is produced by certain special volatile oils and essences.  The main aroma factor in saffron is safranal, which comprises about 60% of the volatile components of saffron.  In fresh saffron this substance exists as stable picrocrocin but as a result of heat and the passage of time it decomposes releasing the volatile aldehyde saffranal. 

Chemical composition of safranal : safranal is a volatile liquid oil which produces a light yellow spot in water vapor and is readily soluble in ethanol, methanol and petroleam ether. 

In order to extract the ethereal oils of saffron it is dissolved in pure water and distilled in a CO2 current.  The distillate is separated with ether, which is then removed by heat.  The oil obtained is a yellow liquid with a strong aroma of saffron.  This substance is a terpen, which is highly susciptible to oxidization and must be stored under special conditions.

Saffron Uses

Properties, Applications and Uses

Because of its chemical composition saffron has unique qualities and properties.  It is a rich source of the  B  group of vitamins, especially riboflavin.  But more important perhaps are its properties of color, aroma and taste.  The coloring agent crocin is readily soluble in water and it is this water solubility that makes it preferred to other carotenoids as a colorant for food and medicine.

 Uses

In the food processing industry saffron is used as a colorant in sausages, margarine, butter, cheese and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.  It is also used for coloring and flavor in ice-cream and sauces and dressings.

Medicinal Uses

Since anciant times saffron has been considered to have a number of therapeutic properties.  It has been used as a sedatives, a tonic, a stimulant of the stomach and an expectorant.

 It has also been used in the treatment of ailments such as dysentery, measles, enlargement of the liver and gall bladder and urological infections .

 The effects of the compounds in saffron on certain types of cancer are being studied and positive results have been obtained in experiments on lab animals.

 With the continuing trend of preferring natural to synthetic and chemical substances as an ingredient in food processing, medical, sanitary, cosmetic products, perfumes, etc, the future for the growing use of saffron in these industries looks good.

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