Super Food: Saffron

The Crocus sativus plant grows to roughly six to eight inches in height and bears lavender colored flowers during each season, which lasts from October until November. Each flower features perianth, which consists of stalk, known as style, connecting to the three stigmas, or threads, to the rest of the plant. These orange-yellow colored stigmas, along with the style constitute saffron, which is used as spice.

Good crop production needs a cool dry climate with well-drained, rich fertile soil, and irrigation facilities, or sufficient amount of rain fall. The flowers are generally harvested during the early morning hours, and soon the stigma is separated and allowed to dry, and is then packaged for marketing.

Saffron has a very distinct flavor because of the chemical components in it called picrocrocin and safranal. It also contains a natural carotenoid chemical compound, crocin, which gives saffron its golden-yellow hue. These traits along with its medicinal properties make it a valuable ingredient in many foods worldwide.

Saffron contains many plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have anti-oxidant, disease preventing and health promoting properties.

The flower stigma are composed of many essential volatile oils but the most important being safranal, which gives saffron its distinct hay-like flavor. Other volatile oils in saffron are cineole, phenethenol, pinene,  borneol, geraniol, limonene, p-cymene, linalool, and terpinen-4-oil.

This spice has many non-volatile active components, and the most important of them is alfa-crocin, which is a carotenoid compound. This compound is what gives the stigmas their characteristic golden-yellow color. It also contains other carotenoids including zeaxanthin, lycopene, a- and b-carotenes. These are important antioxidants that helps protect body from oxidant-induced stress, cancers, infections and acts as immune modulators.

The active components in saffron have many therapeutic applications in many traditional medicines as antiseptic, antidepressant, anti-oxidant, digestive, and anticonvulsants.

This novel spice is a good source of minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese and copper are used by the body as co-factors for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is essential for red blood cell production and as a co-factor for cytochrome oxidase enzymes.

It is also rich in many vital vitamins including vitamin-A, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin-C that are essential for optimum health.

The active components present in saffron have many therapeutic applications in many traditional medicines from long ago such as anti-spasmodic, carminative, and diaphoretic.

Research studies have shown that, safranal, a volatile oil found in the spice, has antioxidant, cytotoxicity towards cancer cells, anticonvulsants and antidepressant properties.

Αlfa-crocin, a carotenoid compound, which gives the spice its characteristic golden-yellow color, has anti-oxidant, anti-depressant, and anti-cancer properties.

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