History and origins
There are references of saffron dating from 2300 B.C. From this date varied and diverse references on use in religious rites and ceremonies, in medicine, food, etc. can be found.
According to research by Egyptologists, Saffron was widely used in ancient Egypt. In the Songs of Solomon it was already mentioned by the name of Karkom, as one of the most praised of the kingdom of plants. With this word, perhaps from India, Saffron is related to the Greek word “Krokos” and the Latin word “Crocum” (Crocus of poets).
In Greek and Roman literature it is often mentioned, and what is said of saffron in such works probes the important role that the color and smell of saffron had in the refined life of Ancient Times. It has been frequently used as a dye. They used to dye party dresses with the spice, saffron was spread on the floor of the rooms where feasts took place, and cushions were stuffed with saffron.
A definite identification of saffron dates back to 1700-1600 B.C. in a painting in the Palace of Minos at Knossos, Crete. Another fresco recently discovered at Ankrotiri on the island of There is dated 1500 B.C. and features a young saffron harvester. Saffron is collected, chopping the whole flower in Minos while in Tehran, the young pick up the stigma directly.
In Egypt about 1000 B.C. saffron could be used in embalming or later occasionally to dye shrouds in which the mummies were covered: yellow for females and red for males. Saffron was an important dye in Ancient Greece and Rome as well, and was used to color cloth of marriage. It was once used as hair dye by the Romans.
The Greeks regarded it as a sensual fragrance. It was scattered in hallways, courtyards, and Greek theaters and Roman baths. The streets of Rome were sprinkled with saffron when Neron entered the city.
Another commercial focus was Venice, whose main buyers were the Germans. Special employees, who were part of Ufficio dello Zafferano and were armed, were responsible for the inspection of saffron traders and to prevent forgery. The importance of trade of saffron in designed to Germany that was evaluated in 10,000 ducats.
In England the saffron was harvested in October. The temptation to trade seems to have overcome the scruples of some merchants and forgery was not uncommon. It was not well known if it was mixed with fiber of horse meat, bits of onion skin, or colored chalk however the penalties for the guilty were severe.
Cultivation and harvesting
The first thing to consider about the cultivation of saffron is that this plant must have a lifespan of 4 years of cultivation. After these years bulbs must be removed from the earth to clean the last layer and remove the “culote” to re-plant them and have no problem in continuing the cycle of planting.
The suitable months for planting are July or September, always in a heavily fertilized field prior to planting. Enough fertilizer must be placed, preferably natural manure, so that the plant nutrients are not missed during the four year of the plant’s lifecycle.
The bulb must be about 18 cm. underground and with the upper brim face up so the plant can be born without the ability to turn around by itself. Between the bulbs there should be a separation of at least 10 cm, since over time the bulbs will reproduce and need land for expansion. After furrow planting, the field must be flattened again taking into account not to compact the soil causing the plant to lose the oxygen.
It is very important that the cultivated ground to be free from weeds. Weeds eat food that we’ve spread for saffron and production declines significantly if there is not constant special care for the field.
Saffron is a rain-fed crop but it can also be grown under irrigation, as long as water does not cover the bulb since this is very sensitive to moisture and can rot with too much water. When irrigated the season comes sooner and production increases, but the inconvenience of keeping a lot of more leftings is also noticeable.
In the region of Jiloca the flowering season occurs in October-November. The only way to know which day the season starts is to monitor the field constantly. Flowering always occurs gradually, starting out with a little bit of flower that grows more every day until it reaches a point called “Florada”.
This is the time when the land gives the most flowers in a single day. From this moment and gradually each day, a little less flower will be produced up to the end of the season. There are between 20 and 25 days when the crop flowers.
To collect the flowers properly it is convenient to be on the field when the dawn’s light shows the first rays. At dawn the flowers are closed and this circumstance leads a faster collection and Brines, which are inside the closed flower, keep all the freshness until the time of their steaming. From 11 am the flower opens causing a more difficult collection.
The operators take advantage of wicker baskets in which they can lean on and thus decrease a little the effort to bend to each flower. Once collected, the flower is expanded to lose the morning moisture or dew so that the dried flower is easier to steam out. The next morning the field will be ready to start collection again.
Steaming out and roasting
In Azafranes Jiloca the steaming is carried out completely by hand and is done as soon as the operators bring the saffron from the field. On a table the flower that has been spread are thrown and the upper brim of the flower is cut. It must be the exact size to obtain the whole strand and to win at product quality. The saffron is to be touched as little as possible and after the steaming, the waste flowers that may have fallen among the strands have to be removed.
During the hours of steaming a few “jotas” and other songs are sung by steamers so that the task at the flower is easier to handle. The remains of flowers that are not desired (petals, stamens, etc..) are thrown into the field the next collection day.
Roasting is the most important step to safeguard the highest quality in the Jiloca Saffron. Once the morning collection is done and the steaming is carried out with utmost care and perfect cleaning, toasting the saffron is the key to preserve the spice well. The toast has to be at very low heat and operators have to constantly monitor developments. The heat source has to be about 35º C. To put it on the heat a nest called “cedazos” is used, which is a traditional utensil consisting of a wooden body and a silk cloth. With this cedazo we can turn the saffron until the optimal conditions for packaging are achieved.
In the roasting there is no exact formula since each day the briznes can vary in moisture and temperature, and also change the conditions of roasting. The only reliable fact is the experience of a good operator toaster. Currently there are very few experts who can reliably meet the wisdom of a good toaster. Saffron has to be bright red and after toasting it is about 20% of its fresh weight; during roasting between 80% and 90% of the moisture must be eliminated.
In case you have planted saffron in your garden, the oven can be used for a homemade toast, at 30 ° C, with the door open. Saffron is to be placed on a thin layer on tissue paper to remove moisture and keeping an eye for a few minutes it will be ready to use in your cooking.
The Jiloca Saffron has many properties, the best known of which are those used for cooking, however it also has many beneficial health properties:
- Gives a soft pleasant scent
- Provides a unique flavor (sweet and sour)
- Color properties towards red and orange
- Aphrodisiac (stimulating erogenous zones)
- Carminative (promotes the expulsion of digestive gases)
- Tonic (stimulates appetite)
- Menstrual pain reliever
- Sedation (Relieves the discomfort of teething children)
- Soothes coughs and bronchitis
- Relieves cramps and insomnia
- Fights nervous disorders and asthma
- Strengthens the heart
- Removes obstructions of the liver
- Reduces levels of blood cholesterol
- Antioxidant capacity
- Good assistance in difficult deliveries
- Potential source of anticancer agents
- Effect against atherosclerosis
- Brightens the mood
- Alternative to using salt
- Improves male fertility
Influence on traditional cuisine
Saffron has always occupied an important place in the kitchen, either for their quality, versatility, or simply to raise the level of the dishes. It is one of the most valued spices in the world, for this reason it has always been in traditional cuisine and it is currently present in the forefront of international cuisine.
Saffron is associated with “good food” and one can say that it is part of the Slow Food Movement. Since 2004 Jiloca Saffron has been part of the Slow Food Presidium, which is an eco-gastronomic association founded in 1989 and currently has more than 100,000 members all over the world.
Slow Food works to counteract fast food and fast life to prevent the disappearance of local food traditions and to address the lack of general interest in nutrition, by how it tastes and the consequences of our food choices.
SLOW FOOD PHILOSOPHY
We believe that everyone has the fundamental right to pleasure, and we are responsible for protecting a food heritage, along with traditional and cultural contributions to this aim.
According to Slow Food, food should be good, clean and fair. Food must have good taste, must be produced without harming the environment, animals, or our health, and producers should be paid fairly.