Saffron is a small plant (Crocus sativus) belonging to the Iridaceae family and it is cultivated in Asia and many Mediterranean countries. The name saffron originates from the latin word "safranum" (from the Arabian word zafaran) and it means "yellow".
1- The flower of saffron
It is a small plant (Crocus sativus) belonging to the Iridaceae family, but only a small part of it is intended as Saffron: the Crocus flowers have got three red stigmas around 3 cm long which stand out in the middle of the purple flower. This is the part of the flower that is used for culinary purposes. (Photo 2)
2- Crocus sativus flower
The Crocus flowers have got three red stigmas around 3 cm long which stand out in the middle of the purple flower. This is the part of the flower that is used for culinary purposes. (Photo 3)
3- Saffron pistils
Saffron has been known since ancient times: it originated in Asia but Homer and Virgil already spoke of it in their works, showing their knowledge of its use in cooking as well as a colorant. Saffron arrived in Italy from Spain thanks to the Dominican priest Santucci (originally from Abruzzo and with a passion for botany and agriculture): after identifying the right type of soil, he tried to grow the Crocus by planting the bulbs.
The experiment was successful and the quality excellent, so much so that it soon spread throughout the rest of Abruzzo. Soon a flourishing commerce in saffron began (supported by levels of production which reached up to 4,00 tons) with the main European markets which greatly appreciated the flavor of the Saffron.
Today Saffron is produced in only a few areas of central-southern Italy, including Tuscany; it's a plant which is quite resistant to cold and is grown in hilly places up to 800 meters altitude.
Picking begins towards the end of October and finishes at the end of November (Photo 4)
4- Saffron field from PRUNETI company
The flowers are picked in the early morning so as not to damage the stigmas (Photo 5)
5- The flowers in the early morning
and immediately after the stigmas themselves are removed and left to dry on grates in the heat of selected wood embers (Photo 6)
6- Gionni Pruneti selecting and picking the little red stigmas.
After being dried the whole stigmas are packed into glass vials of 0,25 g to preserve their characteristics (Photo 7)
7- Each little vial contains enough saffron to prepare a dish for 6/8 people)
Production reaches up to 10-15 kg of stigmas per hectare, over 50kg of flowers are required to produce 1kg of fresh stigmas. After drying, one kilo of fresh stigmas is reduced to a weight of about 200g.