Saffron is an important spice used commonly in Mediterranean, North African and Asian cuisine as a colouring and flavouring for many dishes including rice, seafood and meat dishes, soups, pastas, cheeses and liqueurs. Saffron has also been used as a textile dye, in perfumes and in medicine for over 3,000 years.
Saffron is a plant native to Asia where it has been cultivated for over than 3,000 years. The first known reference to saffron appeared in an Assyrian botanical reference from the 7th century BC. It comes from the Anatolian plateau and from this Asian peninsula it was spread throughout the world, marketed to a great extent by the Arabs, who took advantage of the mythical Silk Road routes in their commercial transactions with the Orient (India, China, Thailand) and the Romans’ “Mare Nostrum” to bring this spice to the West. It reached the Iberian Peninsula in the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries during the time of the Caliphate of Córdoba and did not take long to spread throughout the territories of Al-Andalus. The name saffron comes from the Arabic sáfaran, which means “to be yellow.”
Saffron was introduced to Spain during Arab rule. During the 8th and 9th centuries the product was monopolized by the Andalusi gentry class. Arabic cooking was very rich in herbaceous flavourings, and all orchards included seedbeds for such plants, particularly cumin, caraway, black cumin, cress, sweet anise, fennel, aniseed, coriander, mustard, spearmint, peppermint and parsley. But the most important flavouring for the Muslim economy was saffron, used as a colouring and an essential condiment in the majority of dishes.
There is written evidence of saffron cultivation in La Mancha in the manual Saffron Cultivation in La Solana by J.A. López de la Osa of 1897, which includes details on the practice going back a further one hundred years, citing a judicial inventory from 1720 which also made reference to saffron.
During the first third of the 19th century, La Mancha produced the highest-quality saffron in Spain, reaching its highest levels of production per hectare of dry land.
But the best evidence of the existence of strong historical links with saffron cultivation in the La Mancha can be found in the traditional cultural practices of the area.
Today, saffron is cultivated across a large swathe of the planet, from the Mediterranean in the west to Kashmir in the east. Although saffron is not a native European plant, it is an important crop in the Spanish region of La Mancha, said to produce the best saffron in the world.
La Mancha Saffron with Protected Designation of Origin is characterised by its high colouring power (our Technical Quality Specifications demand a colouring power of a minimum of 200 units), it has a strong and exotic aroma and a slightly bitter taste. These characteristics make it a magnificent flavouring, capable of transmitting deep flavours and an indispensable spice in many classic Spanish recipes, and especially Manchego cooking, from the Middle Ages right up to today.
Saffron is also said to have many traditional medicinal uses and is highly valued in modern medicine. Studies have linked it with positive effects on Alzheimer’s Disease, depression, weightloss, the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, protection of the eye against retina stress, the heart and temporary effects on the immune system. Saffron has also been demonstrated 0to be an efficient anti-tumour agent in animals and has inhibitory effects on skin melanoma induced by DMBA, the proliferation of breast cancer cells and H1 histamine receptors, which suggest a possible use against allergic diseases. Moreover, it has been discovered that saffron has antimutagenic properties as an antioxidant.
According to the Technical Quality Specifications of the La Mancha Saffron Protected Designation of Origin this is the Spice comprising the stigmas of the flowers attached to their respective style belonging to Crocus sativus L., once they have been adequately dried.
The threads should be flexible and resistant and the stigma a bright red colour. The ratio stigma: style length must be greater than one, with a tolerance value of 1%.
The stigma must not be less than 22 mm long, with a tolerance value of 1%. The content in floral residue (styles which have become detached from their stigmas, stamens, pollen and pieces of petals or ovary) must not exceed 0.5 % of the total weight.
No greater than a maximum of 0.1% of foreign material is tolerated. Foreign material is defined as any material other than that from the saffron flower.
Absence of mould and live insects.
- Appearance: flexible and resistant
- Colour: threads with bright red stigmas
- Aroma: intense, dry, exclusive to the drying process (free of any aroma foreign to that identified as saffron). Faint scent of corn or dried grass with floral overtones.
- Flavour (in infusion) –
- Initial: bitter, aromatic and dry (not astringent)
- retro-olfactory: long-lasting with further hints of corn and the drying process.
- Analytic properties
|Analytical parameters||Bulk saffron (by weight)
|Humidity and mat. Volatile||7-9 %||≄∠ 11 % ( m m )|
|Total ash||–||< 8 % ( m m )|
|Ashes Insoluble in acid||–||< 1,0 % ( m m )|
|Ether extract||–||3.5-14.5 % ( m m )|
|Soluble extract in cold water||–||< 65 % ( m m )|
|Coloring power||> 200||> 200|
|Aromatic power||60 Equal 20||> 20|
|Bitterness||120 Pam 70||> 70|
|Safranal content||> 65 %||> 65 %|