Iranian saffron, From Violet Farms to Eloquent Dinner Tables! There is indeed a long story from violet saffron farms to gorgeous Iranian dinner tables.
Saffron, an ancient medicinal plant and the most expensive of spices, has always had magical, addictive power. Cleopatra took saffron-infused baths to enhance her allure. Alexander the Great used it to heal the wounds of battle. Many Iranians believe that in its pure form, saffron works as an antioxidant, an antidepressant and a culinary weapon against Alzheimer’s, cancer and degeneration of the eyes.
Saffron is one of the world’s most expensive spices that is procured from the saffron flower, a flower which is native mostly to Asia. Saffron is also harvested in Greece, India, Afghanistan, Morocco and Spain but Iran is by far the biggest producer of saffron in the world. Iran alone is responsible for about 90% of the global production of saffron, which is then exported to 46 countries around the world.
Every autumn for about 4 to 5 weeks it’s Saffron Season in Iran. During the saffron season, Workers go to the fields and start picking out flowers every day in the early morning just before sunrise. Every day where a flower is picked another grows out in the exact same spot the next day. Saffron is considered a very important part of the culture.
In Iran, the number one producer of saffron in Khorasan Razavi province in the east which is then followed by Khorasan Jonoubi province to the south of the same province. Nowadays saffron is being planted and harvested in Kerman, Lorestan and Fars province as well.
Though you can find saffron in a few other places as well, Iranian saffron is second to none when it comes to flavour, colour and its unmatched quality.
For Iranians, Saffron is not just another spice used for cooking. It is much more than that; they consider it as a national treasure. Saffron plays an essential role in many of the traditional dishes in Iran, India, Arabia, Turkey and Spain. In Iranian cuisine, saffron is a real gem and we use it in most of our meals and in herbal tea and even in desserts. A recent visit to a Tehran supermarket turned up at least a dozen saffron-infused products, including cotton candy, rock sugar to sweeten tea and Sohan, a traditional saffron brittle toffee. That’s why we say saffron can’t bae separated from Iranian food.
Now in this article, we want to shed some light on the process of harvesting these intricate threads of saffron.
This violet plant is an autumn blooming flower. The saffron is basically the red threads inside the flower. Each flower only produces three threads and so many flowers must be planted, grown, processed and harvested by hand to make just one pound of this Red Gold.
It takes about three years for the threads to bloom from the moment the seeds are planted. Since the process and its product are completely organic and requires manual labor, wielding this flower in order to get to the threads is a very intricate and requires expertise. This is the underlying reason for the high price of this product.
To get the threads from the flower, we need to dry them. The proper way is to cut them off the flower and sun-dry them. After that, they’re ready to add some flair and fragrance to your next Iranian cuisine.
Iranian saffron releases its flavour when is mixed with warm water. It takes about 15 minutes for this effect to happen; then the magic begins as saffron continue releasing colour and flavour for the next 24 hours.
If you were to visit Iran prepare yourself for a large dosage of Saffron used in different everyday dishes, tea, desserts and much more. They believe that it gives a lot of energy and protects from many diseases: Tahchin, Jooje-kabab, Khoresh Mast, Gheimeh Nesar and Zereshkpolo and some other foods with rice can be decorated with saffron rice. As for desserts, we can name Sholeh zard or Saffron Pudding. Iranian ice cream is also flavoured with saffron.
Here you can get familiar with the ingredients of some of the most delicious Iranian meals and why we say saffron cannot be separated from Iranian food:
Shole Zard (Iranian saffron pudding): This pudding is made of cooked rice, saffron and rose water and decorated with cinnamon and almond. SholeH Zard can mostly be found being cooked in religious ceremonies like the month of Ramadan and Moharram as Nazri. Nazri is money or a special kind of food we Iranian cook and pray to God for a special desire or need in a special traditional event or time and give it to the poor people.
Tahchin: This meal is shaped like a cake made of rice, the main ingredients are cooked saffron rice, yoghurt, eggs, meat or chicken and barberry. Tahchin is one of the more classy dishes of Iran.
Jooje-Kabab: Kababs are among the Iranians favorite meals and has a wide variety to them. One of which is Jooje-kabab. It is chicken cut into little pieces and put into a marinade mixture of onion, saffron, yoghurt and other spices. After a while, it’s ready to be put on Manqal to be “grilled”. You can think of Manqal as a form of grill, but without the upper metal grate.
Zereshk-polo: This gorgeous looking dish is made out of cooked rice, chicken and some saffron rice and barberry to add a bit of flair and flavor. Other ingredients consist of almond or pistachio cooked in butter and sometimes a pinch of sugar.
Gheime nesar: This classy eye catching Iranian dish originates from Qazvin province and is made with lots of spices, especially saffron. Saffron rice, cooked meat with onion, tomato paste and a lot of spice, a bit of rose water, and some orange peel for decoration and some flavor. Pistachio, almond and cooked barberry may also be added.
Khoresh Mast: This stew is served as a dessert because unlike other Iranian stews, this one is sweet. It originates from Esfahan province. It’s made out of meat or chicken, onion, yoghurt, saffron, sugar, walnut, almond, pistachio and turmeric.
Have you bought your souvenirs yet? Do consider saffron and Sohan – a type of sweet which, surprise surprise, also contains saffron!
Sohan: It is a traditional Iranian saffron brittle toffee. Its ingredients consist of flour, egg yolks, rose water, sugar, butter, saffron, cardamom, and almond and pistachio.