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Saffron Benefits and Health information

1. Introduction to Saffron

As the world’s most expensive spice, saffron provides a beautiful golden colour and pungent, aromatic flavour to foods. You can find it sold as red-gold threads or in ground form, and it is available year-round. It has been used for centuries in Afghanistan, Persian, Arab, European, and Indian cuisine.
Saffron is a spice made from the stigmas of the fall-flowering plant Crocus sativus, a member of the iris family. It is native to Asia Minor, where it has been cultivated for thousands of years to be used in medicines, perfumes, dyes, and as a wonderful flavouring for foods and beverages. Saffron threads are fine and have a yellow tendril on one end and a flute on the other. Ground saffron is red to red-orange in colour. Saffron is suitable for vegan, gluten-free, and paleo diets.
What Does It Taste Like?
Saffron imparts a somewhat earthy taste that’s been described as pungent or even fruity. It is subtle enough that it will be masked in dishes that bolder spices.

2. How to store Saffron

Many people use saffron to spice up their meals, but there are also many men and women that use it for its specific, powerful medicinal properties. The amazing properties of this spice are just one of the reasons why saffron is a little bit expensive. Luckily, you need a small amount of it to get these positive effects. So, the question is – what you should do with the rest of the saffron once you use it for the first time? How to store fresh saffron in the best way and make it last for a couple of years or more?
Storing saffron – a basic guide
1. First of all, the best way to store saffron is to put it in a clean, airtight container. When fresh saffron is exposed to high levels of moisture and humidity it starts losing its properties in a short period of time. The same goes for saffron which is left exposed to oxygen. This is one of the reasons why you should use a small container where air cannot circulate freely. So, after you store it in a special container, you should keep it in a cool and dry place away from sunlight. The best option is to keep the container in a kitchen cabinet that is not exposed to sunlight directly under the countertop. In addition, use a cabinet or drawers made of wood because metal can easily absorb heat.
2. It is worth mentioning that saffron can last for more than two years in case it is stored in the right way. However, it is the best idea to use it within two years because, after this period of time, it will start losing its effects.
3. There are many people that want to store saffron in the fridge. However, storing saffron in a refrigerator should be avoided, especially in case you are using saffron frequently. When moving saffron in and out of the fridge all the time, you will create condensation. As a result of that, you can expect an increased level of moisture, which will eventually ruin the properties of saffron.
4. When it comes to temperature, experts recommend a well-balanced temperature between 15 and 20 degrees Celsius.
5. As we have mentioned before, humidity plays important role in the lifespan of saffron. It is highly recommended to keep the humidity at around 40%.
6. When storing saffron, try to use aluminium foil for additional protection.
7. Finally, it is better to use a few smaller containers because as we said before, every time you open the container a small amount of moisture enters the container. Frequent use will spoil the content.

3. Introduction to Afghan Saffron

Afghan SaffronIntroductionSaffron is an autumn-flowering perennial plant, and its use has a history of over 3500 years. Saffron has often been considered the costliest medicinal plant, a premium spice, and the best dye with a golden-yellowish colour. In China, saffron is celebrated as ‘red gold’ owing to the red stigmas of the flower and its price, which is comparable to the price of gold (Dai et al., 2021). “The name ‘saffron’ most probably originates from the Persian word ‘Saharan. Some researchers attribute the name ‘saffron’ to the Arabic word ‘Zafaran,’ which means yellow’’ (Dai et al.,2021). Mostly in Iran, India, Afghanistan, Greece, Morocco, Spain and Italy. Global saffron production is estimated at 418 tons. This spice is known as the most expensive spice in the world and is beneficial to human health due to having three main compounds. Demand for saffron is growing worldwide due to its interest in cooking, medicine and cosmetics. Recent investigations have been conducted to study how to improve stigma yield, quality and antioxidant activity by selecting corm geographical origin and climatic conditions, using biostimulants such as mycorrhiza fungi as well as choosing irrigation regimes, drying methods and storage processes (Cardone et al., 2020).
According to recent studies, Afghan saffron has been ranked to give a better quality Saffron than Iran, even though Afghanistan is a minor player in producing saffron so far. The Saffron business started 18 years ago in Afghanistan by male farmers with larger landholdings. However, it is being promoted because it has the potential to generate employment, particularly for women.

4. How to check the Quality of Saffron

Saffron is a uniquely delicate spice that possesses distinct properties. Measuring these various properties through laboratory analysis largely determines the quality level and market appeal. If certain specifications can be met, the result is objectively high-quality saffron.
There are few methods of testing purity of Saffron.
Taste it
Another way to check the quality of saffron is to place a thread of saffron in the mouth. If you feel a sweet taste, then you are holding fake, low-quality saffron.
A rule of thumb here: Quality Saffron should smell sweet, but never taste Sweet!
   Smell it
The smell of Pure Saffron reminds people of a mixture of honey and hay aroma. Sometimes the Saffron can have a pungent (almost chemical) type of smell, this is due to high levels of Safranal and Picocrocin in the Saffron.
  Use baking soda
Finally, you can mix saffron and baking soda in a small cup filled with water. In case the mixture, in the end, is yellow then you are looking at an example of pure saffron.
Time for colour release in water – Put the threads in a small container of tepid water. Wait at least 15 minutes. Real saffron slowly turns the water yellow. The colour change may take up to an hour. The saffron threads themselves retain their red colour. If the water changes colour immediately or turns red or does not change colour, or if the threads lose their colour, the substance is not saffron. As you can see, the Hungarian “saffron” did not colour the water. That was a sure sign it was not real. Also, after they soak, real saffron threads will remain intact if you rub them between your fingers. Fakes, on the other hand, tend to fall apart.

5. Losing weight and mood booster through Saffron

If you snack more than you’d like, saffron could help you cut down the habit. Supplementing with saffron made rats eat less, and researchers saw the same thing in human studies. After taking one capsule a day (176.5 mg of extract), moderately overweight but otherwise healthy women lost more weight than women who were taking a placebo. The women in the saffron group snacked less, which could mean that saffron suppresses appetite.[2]
Saffron and mood
Treating depression with medicine often leaves people frustrated and sometimes worse off than they started. There’s a lot of trial and error involved before you and your doctor finds the right treatment. The effectiveness varies from person to person, but they all come with a laundry list of awful side effects that nobody wants — loss of libido, weight gain, mania, and more. Saffron might offer a natural alternative to pills, although we need more research to be sure.
A handful of studies look promising, though. Studies, where participants were supplemented with 30 mg of saffron per day and 50 mg of saffron per day, showed that saffron reduced depression and anxiety. Further trials showed that 30 mg per day is sufficient to reduce symptoms of depression including post-partum depression.
The antidepressant effects of saffron were compared side-by-side with commonly prescribed antidepressant medications. Researchers found that saffron is just as effective in reducing symptoms of mild to moderate depression as imipramine (Tofranil) without the dry mouth and sedation that come with the prescription. Studies showed similar effects when comparing saffron and fluoxetine (Prozac).

6. Benefits of Saffron

Some are mentioned below
1. A powerful antioxidant
Saffron contains an impressive variety of plant compounds. These act as antioxidants — molecules that protect your cells against free radicals and oxidative stress.
Notable saffron antioxidants include :
Crocin and crocetin are carotenoid pigments responsible for saffron’s red colour. Both compounds may :
e)have antidepressant properties
f)protect brain cells against progressive damage
g)improve inflammation
h)reduce appetite
i)aid weight loss
Safranal gives saffron its distinct taste and aroma. Research shows that it may help improve your mood, memory, and learning ability, as well as protect your brain cells against oxidative stress.
Lastly, kaempferol is found in saffron flower petals. This compound has been linked to health benefits, such as reduced inflammation, anti-cancer properties, and antidepressant activity.
2. May improve mood and treat depressive symptoms
Saffron is nicknamed the sunshine spice. This is not just due to its distinct colour but also because it may help brighten your mood.
In a review of five studies, saffron supplements were significantly more effective than placebos at treating symptoms of mild-to-moderate depression.
Other studies found that taking 30 mg of saffron daily was just as effective as Fluoxetine, Imipramine, and Citalopram — conventional treatments for depression. Additionally, fewer people experienced side effects from saffron than from other treatments.
Both the saffron petals and thread-like stigma appear to be effective against mild-to-moderate depression.
While these findings are promising, longer human studies with more participants are needed before experts can recommend saffron as a treatment for depression.

3. May have cancer-fighting properties
Saffron is high in antioxidants, which help neutralize harmful free radicals. Free radical damage has been linked to chronic diseases, such as  cancer.
In test-tube studies, saffron and its compounds have been shown to selectively kill colon cancer cells or suppress their growth, while leaving healthy cells unharmed.
This effect also applies to skin, bone marrow, prostate, lung, breast, cervix, and several other cancer cells.
Test-tube studies have also found that crocin — the main antioxidant in saffron — may make cancer cells more sensitive to chemotherapy drugs.
While these findings from test-tube studies are promising, the anticancer effects of saffron are poorly studied in humans, and more research is needed.

4. May reduce appetite and aid weight loss
Snacking is a common habit that may cause you to gain weight. According to research, saffron may help  prevent snacking  by curbing your appetite.
In one 8-week study, women taking saffron supplements felt significantly more full, snacked less frequently, and lost significantly more weight than women in the placebo group.
In another 8-week study, taking a saffron extract supplement helped significantly reduce appetite, body mass index, waist circumference, and total fat mass.
However, scientists are unsure how saffron curbs appetite and  aids weight loss. One theory is that saffron elevates your mood, which in turn reduces your desire to snack.
5. Easy to add to your diet
In small doses, saffron has a subtle taste and aroma and pairs well with savoury dishes, such as paella, risotto, and other rice  dishes.
The best way to draw out saffron’s unique flavour is to soak the threads in hot — but not boiling — water. Add the threads and the liquid to your recipe to achieve a deeper, richer flavour.
Saffron is readily available at most speciality markets and can be purchased as threads or in powdered form. It’s best to buy the threads, if possible since they can be used in many different ways and are less likely to be adulterated.
Though saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, a small amount goes a long way. You often won’t need more than a pinch in your recipes. Using too much saffron can give your recipes an overpowering medicinal taste.
In addition, saffron is available in supplement form.

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