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Saffron (Crocus Sativus)

The bright red stigmas of the saffron crocus - which is itself lilac-blue in colour. This variety grows in Greece, India, Iran and Spain - the La Mancha area of Spain is considered to produce the finest saffron. The stigmas are the female part of the flower, each flower containing three stigmas. Each stigma is like a little capsule that encloses the complex chemicals that make up saffron"s aroma, flavour and yellow dye.

Saffron is generally available either in this stamen form or in a powdered form.

The male stamens are yellow, half the size of the female stigmas and of no culinary value, although cheaper products (especially the powder) might be diluted with them.

So on no account buy saffron with any evidence of yellow!

The English town of Saffron Walden in Essex takes its name from the spice, as it was once commercially grown there to produce wool dye.

Harvesting is very labour intensive - taking about a hour to pick 1,000 flowers and another two to three to remove the stigmas - that"s 370-470 hours to produce just 1 kilo of saffron. Up to 150,000 flowers are required to produce one kilogram of dried saffron. By weight it costs more than gold, but luckily a little goes a long way.

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