Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Saffron Crocuses

Saffron production has come back to Italy.

SAN GIMIGNANO, Italy (AFP) – Purple crocuses, the source of the precious spice saffron, are abloom once again in Italy's Tuscan hills, centuries after they vanished.

For the rest of the day, nimble fingers will extract the tiny red filaments which will become saffron, used chiefly in cooking but also for colouring and in some medicines.

"A machine could never do this laborious, delicate and above all lengthy work of extraction," said Paolo Pieraccini, who runs the farm with his sister Tiziana.

"You realise it takes 125,000 flowers to produce one kilogramme (2.2 pounds) of saffron!"

Each flower yields three pistils, or stigmas, which provide the reddish-coloured saffron, used as currency in the Middle Ages and still hugely expensive today.

After the fragile pistils have been removed, they are dried overnight at a temperature of 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit), a process that removes 80 percent of their weight.

Then they are put into little sachets weighing a tenth of a gramme, a tiny fraction of an ounce, sold for 3.50 euros (4.50 dollars) each, making saffron worth 35,000 euros (45,000 dollars) a kilo, more expensive than gold.

I know you can grow them here. It would be interesting to try.

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