'Crocus Sativus Linnaeus' is a species of crocus in the Iridaceae family. It has aromatic and dark lavender coloured flowers with purple veins and long bright red stigmas which hang over the petals. Crocus Sativus is not an ordinary autumn flowering crocus; from these stigmas the worlds most expensive spice is extracted: saffron. To cultivate saffron, extreme circumstances are necessary, cold winters and hot, dry summers. The soil must be dry and calcareous. Because of the generally wet and cold autumns, the saffron cultivation in most Northern European Countries is not so easy. There is however a good possibility to plant Crocus Sativus in a pot or in a sunny spot in your garden and by this way grow your own saffron. In the Southern European Countries it's much easier to grow saffron. In countries such as: Spain, Iran, India, Morocco and Italy, saffron is grown commercially on a large scale.
The corms will be planted in August and September. The planting can be done by hand or like the commercial companies do, by machine. Because the Crocus Sativus is an autumn flowering crocus, the harvest of saffron will be at the end of October till the half of November. The crocus opens at sun rise and because the flowers quickly wilt as the day passes, and the stamps will lose their flavour and colour, the flowers are harvested between sun rise and twelve o'clock in the morning. After the flowers are harvested, their stigmas are stripped as soon as possible. To obtain 1 kilogram of fresh stigmas, 85,000 flowers are necessary. The stigmas have a high humidity degree and for this reason are dried. The roasting process gives saffron its eventual appearance. After the roasting only 20% of the weight of a fresh stigma is left. One kilogram of stigmas will give 200 grams of saffron. After the saffron has been kept in a cool and dark place for at least one month, saffron gets its actual flavor and color and will be ready for consumption.
To keep saffron in a perfect condition, it was in past times stored in wooden boxes which were covered on the inside with iron plates, in order to keep away the cold, heat and especially humidity. Nowadays saffron is stored in modern airtight containers which preserves the color and taste. At home complies an airtight jar in a dark kitchen cupboard to keep your saffron in a good condition. Because of the labour-intensive production and the fact that there are many flowers needed for a small quantity of saffron, the price of saffron is high. The good news is, that there is only a very small quantity of saffron necessary to give your food the specific taste, colour and aroma. If you like to buy saffron, it is better to buy threads than powder. In this way you can be sure that it concerns pure saffron instead of counterfeit saffron because there is a lot of it on the market.