Family growing and small plots of land
The secret alchemy of saffron is born from a union between the earth, water, the sun and man’s ancestral know-how. Crocus Sativus Linnaeus is a reverse-growing bulbous plant that belongs to the Iridaceae family. It does not exist in a wild state and is fertilised by man through the multiplication of its bulbs. As nature prepares for winter during October, the mauve petals of Crocus Sativus come into bloom. After many hours spent preparing a light, well-drained bed of soil, fighting potential pests (field mice, hares, rabbits and deer), diseases and weeds, harvest time is an exciting moment for the saffron grower. It lasts 6 weeks, starting in early October. The saffron grower’s hard and patient labour is the only way in which outstanding saffron can be guaranteed.
A demanding manual task
Man has a great deal to do in order to benefit from this promising wonder of nature. The flowers have to be picked daily by hand. It is not really possible to mechanise this stage as it would risk crushing the stigmas. This short-lived flower cannot wait: it blooms at dawn and fades at sunset. It cannot be kept longer than 48 hours. When the petals fade, the stigmas lose their organoleptic qualities (colour, smell and taste). An experienced saffron grower gathers roughly 2,300 flowers an hour. The work is particularly exhausting as the flowers are picked at ground level. Average production per hectare in Khorasan is around 3 kg.
1 kg of saffron = 190,000 flowers = approx. 80 hours of picking
Careful, patient work
Pistil removal involves separating the precious pistils made up of three stigmas from the rest of the harvested flower. Each saffron flower is individually treated by hand. The stigmas are brought together using the thumb and index finger and are cut using the nail at the end of the style, not too high and not too low to avoid wastage or too much yellow style. This meticulous job is given to women with slender, agile fingers.
1 kg of saffron = 190,000 flowers = approx. 5 kg of fresh pistils = roughly 200 hours of pistil-removing by an experienced saffron grower
The reward for hard work
The stigmas must be dried on the same day as the harvest. Drying is the most delicate stage. It ensures that the saffron is preserved by dehydration. During the process, the pistils lose between 85 and 95 % of their moisture content and become the much sought-after spice, saffron.
This operation is also decisive in the organoleptic quality of the saffron. Methods vary according to the country of production and the companies concerned (in the open air, over a brazier, in an electric oven, in a dryer….).
Of the many volatile compounds, safranal is the major compound and is responsible for the typical saffron aroma. Safranal develops from picrocrocin during the drying process. Sun-dried saffron has very spicy notes that are not very scented, whereas saffron that is dried using heat has more of a saffron flavour.
Drying is an important stage in the production of quality saffron, but poor product storage can considerably alter its colour, aromatic properties and taste. Saffron is very hygroscopic and must be stored in a dry place as humidity causes it to lose its taste and it will turn black.
Packing away from light, humidity and air is a promise of flavour, an exceptional aroma and an enchantment for the taste buds. We have developed a storage method that enables us to preserve saffron’s organoleptic qualities up to the final packaging stage.
To free up the whole flavour, colour and aroma of this precious aromatic spice, infuse the saffron in a small amount of hot water for at least ½ hour before using it in a recipe (a soupspoon of hot water, ideally at about 60 °C, for 0.1g of saffron). This will bring out its mellow, enchanting, and discrete taste. If you wish to shorten the infusion time, you may also crush the saffron stigmas in a pestle and mortar and leave them to infuse for just a few minutes.
Saffron is soluble in water but may also be infused in a liquid solution with an alcohol base, in milk or fruit juice. Because of its nature, we recommend that you do not infuse saffron in a fatty substance. The aromas will not be fully released. Use plastic or stainless steel utensils for your recipes rather than wood as this has absorbent qualities that may reduce the aroma.
To preserve saffron’s aromas in your recipes, avoid cooking for too long and at high temperatures. For dishes that require simmering, saffron should be added preferably towards the end of the cooking time.
A long infusion time is not required if you are using milled saffron.
The minimum recommended quantity for 4 people is 0.1g. For salty dishes containing mussels, shellfish or rice, this quantity may be doubled. The quantity of 0.1 g is approximately equivalent to: