Saffron Bonanza

Jim McKenney
Wed, 06 Nov 2013 07:53:32 PST
Lee Poulson asked: " I have always wondered how in the world the first people to try the styles in cooking thought to do so. "

I can think of two reasons why, and neither has he yuck factor evoked by the old saying "it was a brave man who first ate an oyster".

Crocus corms have been collected and sold for human food since ancient times. So a knowledge of crocus populations has long been important information to some human populations. Since the easiest way to find crocus population is to watch for the flowers, the flowers presumably got a lot of attention. Anyone who has been near saffron crocus flowers knows that they are extremely and very pleasantly fragrant. Since the corms were already known to be edible, I'm not surprised that someone tried the flowers. It was probably only a matter of time before it was recognized that the tinting quality came from the styles, which are easily dired, and that the preservation of the entire flower was not necessary.  

One other thing in this regard: to modern cooks, saffron comes from Crocus sativus, a plant known only in cultivation. But I'll bet that long before the cultivated saffron crocus appeared, there was already a long tradition of using the styles of wild  collected crocus of the saffron group, especially such widespread species as Crocus pallasii and C. cartwrightianus, for flavoring and tinting food. Indeed, I think the claim that cultivated saffron is thousands of years old (it is possible) should be taken with a grain of salt, because ancient references to saffron might just as well be references to wild collected saffron and not to the cultivated plant. 

Jim McKenney

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