Who knew that saffron - one of the most expensive spices that you'll find -- has great health benefits? This spice, which is labor-intensive to cultivate since it involves harvesting the stigma (the pollen-gathering part) of a specific type of crocus, is often sold by the gram and can cost a pretty penny.
In fact, a pound of dried saffron costs approximately $5,000.
Here's a video that describes more about saffron:
A Way to Spice Up Your Health
So what are the potential health benefits? And is it worth the price of saffron? I think it's worth regularly adding to your recipes based on the following:
Easing depression - Saffron has been bound by researchers to ease depression. Some studies also found that consuming saffron regularly actually matched the results seen in results from two drugs, fluoxetine and imipramine. Two compounds in saffron - crocin and safranal -- are believed to support brain chemicals that support one's mood.
Preventing muscle pain and increasing muscle strength - A new study reported in the Wall Street Journal found that daily saffron supplements did a better job of preventing muscle weakness and pain after intense exercise than anti-inflammatory drugs. Additionally, saffron actually increased muscle strength among the participants who took 300 milligrams of powdered saffron daily for one week before the strenuous exercise session and three days afterwards.
Easing PMS symptoms and menstrual cramps - One study found that saffron reduced menstrual cramps more effectively than daily mefenamic acid, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Another study found that 30 mg of daily saffron effectively relieved PMS symptoms.
Some studies also indicate that saffron may be useful in relation to atherosclerosis, male infertility, erectile dysfunction, cancer, anxiety and insomnia, age-related macular degeneration, memory loss, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease. Based on these results, I think it's worth it to add saffron to your spice lineup.
Ninety percent of saffron is produced in Iran. Spanish saffron from LaMancha, Kashmiri Indian saffron, and Tasmanian saffron from Australia are considered the highest quality. Most of the saffron that is sold in the United States is from LaMancha.
In their book, Healing Spices, Dr. Bharat B. Aggarwal and Debora Yost recommend purchasing saffron threads as opposed to ground saffron.
Furthermore, because of its value, some jars labelled as saffron may be fabricated (often by turmeric or safflower). Real saffron will bleed its color when put in warm water.
How to Store and Cook Saffron
Saffron can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place (but not in the refrigerator or the freezer). Wrapping the container in foil will offer further protection.
To cook with saffron, you need to crush the spice just before using and then infuse in a liquid (but not oil) before being added to a recipe. Want to try saffron in a recipe? Here's one of my favorites - Ina Garten's Provencal Vegetable Soup. Enjoy