Saffron Crocus – Growing Guide

Saffron Crocus

Botanical name

Crocus sativus

Family

Iridaceae

Description

Crocus sativus is more commonly known as the saffron crocus, or autumn crocus and is best known for producing the spice, saffron. Saffron is simply the three pronged stigma of the saffron crocus flower, and given that a single bulb can produce four flowers, theoretically one bulb can produce 12 strands of saffron. Harvested by hand and dried, it is much prized in the culinary world for both its flavour as a seasoning, and for the beautiful golden colour that it imparts. Saffron is an essential ingredient in Spanish paellas and Italian risottos, and is a common ingredient in Indian, Mediterranean and Italian cuisines where it is used to flavour and colour curries, sauces, marinades, desserts and sweets. Commonly infused in liquid, it can also be ground into a powder and stirred in.

The most expensive spice in the world gram for gram, saffron is said to be more expensive than gold.   This is understandable given that the fragile stigmas are hand picked, and to get just 500 grams of the spice, 80,000 crocus flowers are required. Saffron can retail from $10/gram, with local or high-quality imported saffron costing up to $100/gram. So if you have the right climate, it makes good sense to try and grow your own at home.

Growing

Saffron is grown from bulbs in well-drained soil with the violet coloured crocus flower appearing in Autumn.

Climate:  Saffron crocus prefers a cool climate with moist but well-drained soils

Difficulty:  Moderate

Dormancy: Spring to summer – After flowering the plant will continue to grow, resembling a small mondograss. Allow the green leaves to die off naturally, as a daffodil would, as during this time the corm is storing goodness and multiplying underground. You should avoid digging around dormant corms

Feeding:  Lightly fertilize twice a year, but do not overdo it.

Flowers:  Shoots will appear in autumn from mid-March to end April (in Australia). Pretty flowers of lilac or purple, often with light stripes, can appear at anytime once shoots emerge.   Flowering generally occurs over a three week period.

Harvesting:  Pick the flowers early in the morning, before the sun deteriorates them. Remove the three red stigmas from the flower and place on paper towel to dry out. This make take a few days. The dried stigmas are deep red to orange-red, wiry and very brittle.

Position:  Corms should have full sun, all day, preferably north-facing and slightly sloping. Flower production is best with full sun.

Problems:  Humidity and poor drainage

Propagation:  Saffron can only be grown by dividing clumps of corms. They are best divided and replanted in late summer or autumn. For commercial production, clumps are lifted, divided and replanted each summer – but in home gardens it is enough to divide clumps every three years. To ensure strong growth, allow the thin, reedy foliage to die down naturally.

Saffron Corms for the Garden

Saffron Corms

Soil:  Well-drained soil

Sow and plant:  Plant the corms directly into raised beds or in a terracotta pot, tuft facing upwards. Plant new corms in summer or early autumn.

Spacing:  Plant corms 100mm deep and 100 mm apart.

Storage:  Store dried saffron stigmas in an airtight glass bottle in a cool dark place. If the air gets to it, it will diminish in strength.

Watering:  Do not water often, as corms prefer a dry soil and do not like ‘wet-feet’. Usually rain is enough, except in the extreme heat during summer.

 

Uses in the Kitchen

Saffron is characterised by its distinctive fragrance created by picrocrocin and safranal with the rich golden-yellow hue a result of the carotenoi and crocin content. These traits make saffron a much sought-after ingredient in many cuisines worldwide, but is best used sparingly as too much can give a medicinal flavour to a meal.

Differing from other spices, saffron should be activated before use by a method know as ‘steeping’ or ‘infusion’. This is done be adding the required amount of saffron strands to boiling liquid and allowing them to infuse for anything from 1 hour to 24 hours. The time required depends on the intensity of flavour, colour or aroma required. Usually 4-6 strands is all that is needed per half a cup of boiling liquid, but of course, this depends on the quality of the saffron you are using. Whatever liquid your recipe calls for, whether it is water, milk, juice white wine, stock, etc. you should infuse the saffron for more than an hour, preferably in a covered/sealed container.

Sauce is ready

Saffron infusing an orange sauce to accompany duck

How and when you add the infused liquid to your dish depends on the recipe. However as a rule of thumb:

  • For full strength flavour and aroma, add the saffron infusion towards the end of cooking, with low heat.
  • For full strength colour, add the saffron infusion at the beginning of cooking, with high heat.

Alternatively, you could add half of the liquid at the beginning of cooking and half at the end. Many chefs around the world use spirits such as Cointreau, vodka, gin etc…, adding it to sauces for increased flavour.

You can use saffron in rice dishes, mains, casseroles, sauces, desserts, sauces, baking and drinks. It pairs beautifully with saffron loves asparagus, rice, eggs, cheese, chicken, leeks, seafood, mushrooms and spinach and pairs with anise, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, ginger, nutmeg, paprika and pepper.

 

Recipes:   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Saffron in the kitchen… and now in the garden! | SBA's Kitchen

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