THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET: Foods, Recipes & Benefits
A way of eating based on traditional foods
Saffron from la Mancha - A Legendary Spice
One of the most highly prized and treasured spices in the world, Saffron from La Mancha is an essential ingredient in Spanish cuisine and the heart-healthy Mediterranean Diet. Highly versatile, the rich yellow-red colored spice is equally at home in rice and vegetarian dishes, soups and stews, with meat and fish and as a tea.
Known as azafrán in Spanish, saffron has a long and legendary history. Originating in Asia Minor, it was introduced to Spain during the Caliphate of Cordoba. Three-fourths of the world’s saffron now comes from the La Mancha region of Spain and it holds the highest recognition of Protected Designation of Origin "La Mancha Saffron"
The spice has been known since ancient times and was such a rare and valuable commodity it was used as a form of currency at one time. It’s a multi-faceted botanical that was used in fragrances, as a deodorizer, and Buddhists used it as a dye for their robes. Ladies of Henry VIII’s court dyed their hair and perfumed their baths with it.
It was hailed as a potent aphrodisiac and saffron pigment has even been found in the paint of cave art. A 14-week war was once waged near Basel, Switzerland, when noblemen stole 800 pounds of the precious spice from merchants.
Science has proven it’s a rich source of minerals the body needs that includes calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium and zinc. Saffron is a potent antioxidant and new research is being conducted into its potential use as an anti-obesity medication.
Today, Saffron from La Mancha can command prices of $500 and more per ounce and is harvested from a very specific type of crocus. The crocus flower contains three thread-like stigmas at its center that yields the flavorful commodity. The stigmas must be harvested by hand in an extremely labor-intensive process and it requires 150-200 flowers to make a single gram of saffron.
The flower only blooms for a limited period and must be harvested at just the right time. Traditional harvesting methods are still used for Saffron from La Mancha and the way the stigmas are dried determines many of its characteristics. The highest quality spice comes in the form of the original threads. When purchased as a ground powder, it often contains other ingredients and isn’t pure saffron.
Saffron has a wealth of health benefits and studies indicate that it may be able to reduce mood swings and blood pressure. Throughout history saffron has been utilized to reduce the effects of a hangover, as an aid for insomnia, and a remedy for digestive issues. It’s said to soothe asthma, strengthen the heart, and help with nerve disorders.
Today, Saffron from La Mancha is still prized by home cooks and professional chefs around the globe for its color, aroma and flavor. An indispensable staple in traditional Spanish foods, it provides multiple health benefits with a unique flavor for a true gourmet experience.