What Is Saffron?
Saffron is a prized spice with a rich history. It's a star ingredient in many cuisines in the Middle East, India, and Europe, lending its distinct saffron, dark red color and sweet, earthy flavor to dishes.
While saffron’s exact origin is uncertain, its medicinal use is well-documented throughout history. Cleopatra bathed in saffron-soaked water for its supposed beauty and aphrodisiac qualities, and Greco-Roman physicians prescribed it to treat a range of ailments, such as:
- Urinary tract infections
- Stomach issues
Saffron is a type of crocus flower. The spice is made from the dried, threadlike parts of the flower. Because it takes 75,000 flowers to get a single pound of saffron, it's considered the world's most expensive spice.
Saffron is commonly used as a coloring or flavoring agent, but it has also been used therapeutically for thousands of years. Now, you can find saffron in oral supplement form to treat a variety of health issues.
What does saffron taste like?
Saffron seems to taste different to nearly everyone who tries it, with some finding it bitter while others describe it as sweet. It is best used in small quantities as it does have a strong flavor profile. The taste can be described as earthy, and the scent is described as a combination of freshly mowed grass with a hint of pepper.
Saffron is one of the most expensive food items per weight on the market, but that doesn't mean it's hard to find. You can likely pick up some at your local supermarket. Typical pricing should be about $15-$20 for a fraction of an ounce. If a deal is too good to believe, it probably is, and you should keep looking.
Saffron has numerous health-promoting properties, as it contains compounds such as:
It also has large amounts of the following minerals:
The biological activity of this plant makes it an effective treatment for several health issues.
Saffron's health benefits include:
Alleviating symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome
Saffron is known to help reduce the negative symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In one study, 60% of the women who took saffron supplements reported a 50% or higher reduction in 17 PMS-related symptoms.
Helping depression and anxiety
The active constituents in saffron have antidepressant and antianxiety properties comparable to certain standard medications, including:
Additionally, people who take saffron for depression or anxiety report fewer negative side effects.
Preventing heart disease
The people of Mediterranean countries, where consuming saffron is common, have lower than normal cases of heart disease. This is likely due to saffron's anti-inflammatory properties and cholesterol-lowering benefits. The presence of crocetin in saffron reduces the level of bad kinds of cholesterol in your blood, which indirectly lowers your chances of getting heart attacks. Saffron's antioxidant content also provides added heart protection and can even increase your body's antibacterial and antiviral activity.
Slowing the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease
Research shows that people with Alzheimer's disease who regularly take saffron supplements have significantly better cognitive function than those who don't. Saffron's effects on dementia may be due to its properties that prevent the buildup of the protein beta-amyloid in your brain, which researchers believe is one of the potential causes of Alzheimer's disease.
Amounts and Dosage
According to studies on the effectiveness of saffron to treat depression, PMS, and Alzheimer's disease, the dose of saffron is 20 milligrams (mg).
Each saffron plant flower yields 7 milligrams of saffron, and stores typically sell it in amounts of 30 milligrams.
Saffron spice contains the following nutrients per 100 grams:
- Calcium: 111 milligrams, which is 9% of your daily value
- Iron: 11.1 milligrams, which is 61% of your daily value
- Potassium: 1,724 milligrams, which is 37% of your daily value
Saffron tea is packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and it can provide some significant health benefits.
To make saffron tea, boil your water, then take it off the heat. Add several strands of saffron and stir until your beverage is a bright yellow color. Let it sit for a couple of minutes to fully absorb the saffron. Then you can add sweetener like agave, if you wish.
Potential health benefits of saffron tea
Saffron tea is rich in nutrients that scientists continue to study for their potential health benefits. For example, it contains crocin and crocetin, antioxidants that may help improve memory function. Researchers believe these antioxidants may have the potential to treat diseases that affect the brain, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Crocin and crocetin are antioxidants called carotenoids, plant pigments that give saffron its rich red color. Studies show that they may have anticancer and antitumor effects, but more research is needed to study this effect in humans.
However, saffron tea also contains many other antioxidants that are known to protect your body from cell damage. This damage is caused by factors such as aging, environment, and lifestyle and is linked to many chronic illnesses including cancer.
Immune system support
Saffron is one of the richest sources of riboflavin, a B vitamin that helps you maintain a healthy immune system. It fights inflammation in the body that can lead to chronic diseases such as cancer. Research suggests it may also protect the brain from cognitive diseases and migraines.
Saffron tea also contains safranal, an antioxidant that may increase antibacterial and antiviral activity in your body. Safranal has also been found to improve sleep quality, which promotes good immune system function and better overall health.
What Is Saffron Used For?
Saffron is mainly used for cooking. As a spice, saffron is used in many countries to complement rice dishes. Its uses are widespread and vary depending on the type of cuisine it is being used in. Some dishes you can find saffron in include Spanish paella, French bouillabaisse, Italian risotto, and the national dish of Iran, chelow kebab. Saffron is widely used in Moroccan dishes, including teas.
Other than cooking, saffron is used for cosmetic purposes. The beauty powers of the spice date back to the times of Cleopatra. Throughout the world, saffron is used to clear complexions. Hindu women also use saffron to make the golden bindi on their foreheads. Dried saffron produces a pleasant scent used in perfumes. The hue is also used as a natural alternative for pigments in cosmetics.