The average person is aware of saffron as a spice; something that is added to food for a strong odor and strong flavor. Others also associate saffron with the color yellow. What most people do not know is where saffron, and by extension, the health supplement saffron extract, come from. Saffron actually has a long and fascinating history. It has been extracted from flowers for several thousand years and used in food.
Today, saffron is, pound for pound, one of the most valuable commodities in the world. It is grown in areas where the climate can support the flower and harvest every day. Saffron extract, which is noted for having a number of benefits, is taken from the spice itself.
Saffron is taken from the saffron crocus, a flower also known as the purple crocus. This particular flower was originally found in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean. It was the Greeks and according to some accounts, the ancient Persians who initially began harvesting saffron from it. The ancient Greeks even had a legend about the purple crocus. According to the legend, a man named Crocus was turned into a flower for daring to love, Smilax, a nymph. Saffron was first used in cooking several thousand years ago, and since then it has remained a valuable food product with a number of health benefits.
The purple crocus is a fairly hardy plant. Its native climate is fairly warm and dry in the summer, and wet and mild in the winter, resembling many other climates around the world. Although snowfall is rare in areas where the purple crocus grows naturally, it can and does survive in colder climates where snow is a possibility. The purple crocus also likes open, sunlit areas. Shade hampers growth.
The purple crocus is grown in many locations around the world. This includes not only the Middle East and Greece, but parts of North Africa, Asia, and North America. Parts of California, in particular are ideal for the purple crocus and saffron farming is somewhat common there. Still, the world’s biggest producer of saffron is Iran. Spain is also a major exporter of saffron and Spanish saffron is highly valued.
The flowers are mainly cultivated by planting bulbs, known as saffron bulbs. These bulbs travel well and can be stored for a long time, meaning that the flowers were easy to spread in regions where they could grow well.
Saffron is extracted from the purple crocus via a fairly complex process. First, the harvest must take place only during a certain time of year. Then, there is a long red strand within the flower known as the stigma. When this is removed and dried by exposure to extreme heat, the stigmas become saffron strands. A single flower only makes a miniscule amount of saffron. In fact, it takes roughly 4,000 flowers to create even a single ounce of saffron. An acre of flowers is capable of creating a pound of the spice. Obviously, saffron extract is taken from the spice.