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Evolution and InnovationSave Biodiversity...Rise

Saffron

SAFFRON  :  The Golden Herb

The saffron crocus, unknown in the wild, probably descends from Crocus cartwrightianus, which originated in Crete;[8] C. thomasii and C. pallasii are other possible precursors.[9][10] The saffron crocus is a triploid that is "self-incompatible" and male sterile; it undergoes aberrantmeiosis and is hence incapable of independent sexual reproduction—all propagation is by vegetative multiplication via manual "divide-and-set" of a starter clone or by interspecific hybridisation.[11][10] If C. sativus is a mutant form of C. cartwrightianus, then it may have emerged viaplant breeding, which would have selected for elongated stigmas, in late Bronze Age Crete.[12]Saffron (pronounced /ˈsæfrən/ or /ˈsæfrɒn/)[1] is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocusCrocus is a genus in the family Iridaceae. Saffron crocus grows to 20–30 cm (8–12 in) and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigmas, which are the distal end of a carpel.[2] Together with the styles, or stalks that connect the stigmas to their host plant, the dried stigmas are used mainly in various cuisines as a seasoning and colouring agent. Saffron, long among the world's most costly spices by weight,[3][4][5] is native to Greece or Southwest Asia[6][4] and was first cultivated in Greece.[7] As a genetically monomorphic clone,[8] it was slowly propagated throughout much of Eurasia and was later brought to parts of North AfricaNorth America, and Oceania.

Etymology 

Further information: History of saffron

A degree of uncertainty surrounds the origin of the English word, "saffron" although it can be traced to have stemmed immediately from 12th-century Old French term safran, which comes from the Latin word safranumSafranum comes from the Persian intercessor زعفران, or za'ferânOld Persian is the first language in which the use of saffron in cooking is recorded, with references dating back thousands of years. In fact some sources argue that it originated from Middle East/Persia and became associated with Greek, Spanish, and Indian cuisines.

Description


 

Köhler's Medicinal Plants:

  corolla
  stamens
  corm
  stigma

The domesticated saffron crocus, Crocus sativus, is an autumn-flowering perennial plant unknown in the wild. Its progenitors are possibly the eastern Mediterranean autumn-flowering Crocus cartwrightianus,[18][10] which is also known as "wild saffron"[19] and originated in Greece.[14]The saffron crocus probably resulted when C. cartwrightianus was subjected to extensive artificial selection by growers seeking longer stigmas. C. thomasii and C. pallasii are other possible sources.[9][10]

It is a sterile triploid form, which means that three homologous sets of chromosomes compose each specimen's genetic complement; C. sativus bears eight chromosomal bodies per set, making for 24 in total.[2] Being sterile, the purple flowers of C. sativus fail to produce viable seeds; reproduction hinges on human assistance: clusters of corms, underground, bulb-like, starch-storing organs, must be dug up, divided, and replanted. A corm survives for one season, producing via this vegetative division up to ten "cormlets" that can grow into new plants in the next season.[18] The compact corms are small, brown globules that can measure as large as 5 cm (2.0 in) in diameter, have a flat base, and are shrouded in a dense mat of parallel fibres; this coat is referred to as the "corm tunic". Corms also bear vertical fibres, thin and net-like, that grow up to 5 cm above the plant's neck.[2]

The plant grows to a height of 20–30 cm (8–12 in), and sprouts 5–11 white and non-photosynthetic leaves known ascataphylls. These membrane-like structures cover and protect the crocus's 5 to 11 true leaves as they bud and develop. The latter are thin, straight, and blade-like green foliage leaves, which are 1–3 mm in diameter, either expand after the flowers have opened ("hysteranthous") or do so simultaneously with their blooming ("synanthous"). C. sativus cataphylls are suspected by some to manifest prior to blooming when the plant is irrigated relatively early in the growing season. Its floral axes, or flower-bearing structures, bear bracteoles, or specialised leaves that sprout from the flower stems; the latter are known as pedicels.[2] After aestivating in spring, the plant sends up its true leaves, each up to 40 cm (16 in) in length. In autumn, purple buds appear. Only in October, after most other flowering plants have released their seeds, do its brilliantly hued flowers develop; they range from a light pastel shade of lilac to a darker and more striated mauve.[20] The flowers possess a sweet, honey-like fragrance. Upon flowering, plants average less than 30 cm (12 in) in height.[21] A three-pronged style emerges from each flower. Each prong terminates with a vivid crimson stigma 25–30 mm (0.98–1.18 in) in length.[18]

Cultivation


 

Saffron bulbs for vegetative reproduction

Crocus sativus thrives in the Mediterranean maquis, an ecotype superficially resembling the North American chaparral, and similar climates where hot and dry summer breezes sweep semi-arid lands. It can nonetheless survive cold winters, tolerating frosts as low as −10 °C (14 °F) and short periods of snow cover.[18][22] Irrigation is required if grown outside of moist environments such as Kashmir, where annual rainfall averages 1,000–1,500 mm (39–59 in); saffron-growing regions in Greece (500 mm or 20 in annually) and Spain (400 mm or 16 in) are far drier than the main cultivating Iranian regions. What makes this possible is the timing of the local wet seasons; generous spring rains and drier summers are optimal. Rain immediately preceding flowering boosts saffron yields; rainy or cold weather during flowering promotes disease and reduces yields. Persistently damp and hot conditions harm the crops,[23] and rabbits, rats, and birds cause damage by digging up corms. Nematodes, leaf rusts, and corm rot pose other threats. Yet Bacillus subtilis inoculation may provide some benefit to growers by speeding corm growth and increasing stigma biomass yield.[24]


 

Saffron harvesting, Torbat-e HeydariehIran

The plants fare poorly in shady conditions; they grow best in full sunlight. Fields that slope towards the sunlight are optimal (i.e., south-sloping in the Northern Hemisphere). Planting is mostly done in June in the Northern Hemisphere, where corms are lodged 7–15 cm (2.8–5.9 in) deep; its roots, stems, and leaves can develop between October and February.[2] Planting depth and corm spacing, in concert with climate, are critical factors in determining yields. Mother corms planted deeper yield higher-quality saffron, though form fewer flower buds and daughter corms. Italian growers optimise thread yield by planting 15 cm (5.9 in) deep and in rows 2–3 cm (0.79–1.18 in) apart; depths of 8–10 cm (3.1–3.9 in) optimise flower and corm production. Greek, Moroccan, and Spanish growers employ distinct depths and spacings that suit their locales.

C. sativus prefers friable, loose, low-density, well-watered, and well-drained clay-calcareous soils with high organic content. Traditional raised beds promote good drainage. Soil organic content was historically boosted via application of some 20–30 tonnes of manure per hectare. Afterwards, and with no further manure application, corms were planted.[25] After a period of dormancy through the summer, the corms send up their narrow leaves and begin to bud in early autumn. Only in mid-autumn do they flower. Harvests are by necessity a speedy affair: after blossoming at dawn, flowers quickly wilt as the day passes.[26] All plants bloom within a window of one or two weeks.[27] Roughly 150 flowers together yield but 1 g (0.035 oz) of dry saffron threads; to produce 12 g (0.42 oz) of dried saffron (or 72 g (2.5 oz) moist and freshly harvested), 1 kg (2.2 lb) of flowers are needed; 1 lb (0.45 kg) yields 0.2 oz (5.7 g) of dried saffron. One freshly picked flower yields an average 30 mg (0.0011 oz) of fresh saffron or 7 mg (0.00025 oz) dried.[25]

 

Types


 

Saffron from different producer countries, picked and dried in different ways gives rise to different end qualities.

The various saffron crocus cultivars give rise to thread types that are often regionally distributed and characteristically distinct. Varieties (not varieties in the botanical sense) from Spain, including the tradenames "Spanish Superior" and "Creme", are generally mellower in colour, flavour, and aroma; they are graded by government-imposed standards. Italian varieties are slightly more potent than Spanish. The most intense varieties tend to be Iranian. Various "boutique" crops are available from New Zealand, France, Switzerland, England, the United States, and other countries—some of them organically grown. In the U.S., Pennsylvania Dutch saffron—known for its "earthy" notes—is marketed in small quantities.[38][39]

Consumers may regard certain cultivars as "premium" quality. The "Aquila" saffron, or zafferano dell'Aquila, is defined by high safranal and crocin content, distinctive thread shape, unusually pungent aroma, and intense colour; it is grown exclusively on eight hectares in the Navelli Valley of Italy'sAbruzzo region, near L'Aquila. It was first introduced to Italy by a Dominican monk from Inquisition-era Spain. But the biggest saffron cultivation in Italy is in San Gavino Monreale, Sardinia, where it is grown on 40 hectares, representing 60% of Italian production; it too has unusually high crocin, picrocrocin, and safranal content. Another is the "Mongra" or "Lacha" saffron of Kashmir (Crocus sativus 'Cashmirianus'), which is among the most difficult for consumers to obtain. Repeated droughts, blights, and crop failures in the Indian-controlled areas of Kashmir combine with an Indian export ban to contribute to its prohibitive overseas prices. Kashmiri saffron is recognisable by its dark maroon-purple hue; it is among the world's darkest, which hints at strong flavour, aroma, and colouring effect.

 

 

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