Rich in beneficial properties, saffron is useful for counteracting mood disorders and stomach cramps. It is considered the most expensive spice in the world, but very little is needed in the kitchen to enrich the dishes.
Saffron is a spice rich in taste and properties. The saffron plant, whose botanical name is Crocus sativus, belongs to the Iridaceae family. It is a small herbaceous plant native to Asian countries and cultivated in Greece, Spain and Italy in particular in Abruzzo, but also in Sardinia, Umbria, Tuscany and Marche.
The plant has a bulb from which the purple flower develops which has three long red-orange stigmas which, after being dried, are used as a spice.
The powder obtained has a yellow color and in fact the term saffron derives from the word safranum which means yellow. Saffron is a very expensive spice due to the long and difficult production process. To obtain one kg of saffron, 200,000 flowers are required, requiring at least 500 hours of work. It is widely used in the kitchen to enrich dishes such as risotto but there are also many non-culinary uses. Let’s see the nutritional and therapeutic properties of saffron.
Saffron: characteristics and nutritional values
Speaking of nutritional values for a spice like saffron may be superfluous, given the small quantity that is made in the kitchen (in fact, less than half a gram is enough to flavor the recipes). However, for the sake of completeness of information, we remind you that saffron brings about 310 calories per 100 grams, has a good protein intake (about 11%) and also of fibers, which are almost 4%. Polyunsaturated fatty acids are also present. However, what gives saffron different beneficial properties are some compounds present in the spice and which we will see more specifically in a moment. Below is the table of the nutritional values of saffron.
Nutritional values per 100g of saffron:
- Kilocalories: 310
- Carbohydrates: 65.4 gr
- Waterfall: 11.9 gr
- Proteins: 11.4 gr
- Fat: 5.8 gr
- Fibers: 3.9 gr
- Potassium: 1724 mg
- Soccer: 111 mg
- Phosphorus: 252 mg
- Iron: 11 mg
- Magnesium: 264 mg
- Zinc: 1 mg
- Manganese: 28 mg
- Vitamin B1 or Thiamine: 0.11 mg (8.2% RDA)
- Vitamin B2 or Riboflavin: 0.26 mg (16.7% RDA)
- Vitamin B3 or Niacin: 1.46 mg (8.1% RDA)
- Vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine: 1 mg (50.5% RDA)
- Folate: 93 µg (46.5% RDA)
- C vitamin: 80 mg (134.7% RDA)
- Vitamin A: 27 µg (3.4% RDA)
- Glycemic index: 5
Saffron: nutritional properties
Saffron is rich in mineral salts, especially potassium, phosphorus and magnesium while the most abundant vitamins are vitamin C and folates. But what characterizes this spice and attributes its therapeutic properties to it is safranal, a substance present in the pistils of the flower and to which we owe the typical scent of saffron. The color of saffron is instead due to crocin and crocetin, two carotenoids that also act as antioxidants. Now let’s see in detail the properties of the nutrients most represented in this spice.
- Potassium: saffron contains 1724 mg of potassium per 100 grams, however very little of this spice is eaten both because a few grains are enough to give color and flavor, and because in excessive quantities it is toxic. Potassium regulates the frequency and contraction of the heart, the pH and the transmission of nerve impulses. This mineral also facilitates the elimination of excess fluids, consequently lowering blood pressure;
- Phosphorus: phosphorus is a mineral present in the structure of some enzymes involved in cellular repair and of course we also find it in bones and teeth;
- Magnesium: this mineral plays a fundamental role in the process of muscle contraction and transmission of nerve impulses. A deficiency, in fact, leads to muscle cramps, nervousness and insomnia. Saffron is useful in the case of mood disorders and difficulty falling asleep;
- Vitamin C: saffron is rich in vitamin C, with a strong antioxidant action and therefore counteracts the oxidation caused by free radicals. Stimulates the immune system and promotes the absorption of iron in the intestine;
- Folate: Folate is converted in the intestine into folic acid which is essential for growth and reproduction and for the functioning of the nervous system. Its deficiency in pregnancy is dangerous because it can lead to fetal malformations;
- Safranal: it is an aromatic aldehyde and is the main component of the essential oil. This compound is the main responsible for the typical smell of saffron;
- Crocin and crocetin: these substances are carotenoids, pigments responsible for the color of saffron.
Saffron: health benefits
As we have seen, the components present and in particular Safranal, crocin and crocetin, give saffron very interesting properties for health. In particular, it is known for regulating mood and for its beneficial effects on the digestive system, but not only. Let’s now explore all the benefits of this spice.
✓ Adjust your mood
Saffron acts on the nervous system with positive effects on mood. This is demonstrated by a study in which the integration of saffron significantly improved the symptoms of depression in adults suffering from major depressive disorder (the effects were comparable to those obtained with antidepressants).
✓ Reduces the symptoms of PMS and counteracts menstrual pains
The consumption of saffron is able to reduce the mood swings typical of the pre-menstrual period in women as some of its components such as safranal and crocin would be able to increase the levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.
✓ Boost your memory
Studies carried out on mice have shown that saffron supplementation is capable of significantly improving learning and memory and this action would be due to the powerful antioxidant activity of crocetin.
✓ Fights free radicals
This property of saffron is due to the presence of antioxidants able to counteract the oxidative damage of free radicals and therefore to prevent cellular aging. This action is also carried out by vitamin C.
✓ It is beneficial for the gastrointestinal system
Saffron has antispasmodic properties and is capable of preventing gastric ulcer while various studies are needed to prove the alleged efficacy of saffron extracts on stomach and liver cancer. In addition, saffron is antispasmodic thanks to its essential oil and helps eliminate intestinal gas.
✓ Relieves cough
The components of saffron are able to reduce cough in experiments conducted on guinea pigs. Saffron would be able to reduce inflammation by facilitating breathing.
Saffron: how to use it in the kitchen
The use of saffron in cooking dates back to the times of the ancient Egyptians who used it to flavor foods and as a dye for fabrics. Today the use of saffron in the kitchen ranges from appetizers to desserts, even if its strong points are risottos, fish dishes and white meats.
Saffron is also indicated as a condiment for mildly flavored vegetables, such as courgettes. In the Middle East, saffron is usually used as a condiment for cakes and donuts. It can also be used in herbal teas to promote sleep and digestion.
Saffron: contraindications and potential negative effects
Saffron is not without contraindications, especially if you exceed the doses. Although, in fact, the quantity traditionally used in cooking has no contraindications, the consumption of this spice can be toxic in high quantities. Already at 5 grams unpleasant side effects such as bleeding, drowsiness and dizziness can appear, while at 10 grams it can have abortive effects on pregnant women.
Intake of 20 grams can be downright lethal. The daily dose that is recommended not to exceed is 1.5 grams per day, which is difficult to reach in the kitchen as the sachets sold at the supermarket usually contain only 0.1 grams of saffron.
Saffron: price and where to buy it
Saffron is a spice available in all supermarkets in the department dedicated to spices and herbs, in organic food stores and also online. It is found both in powder and in pistils, which can be used as they are or minced. Among the best and most renowned saffron we certainly find the one grown in Abruzzo. The price of saffron, as known, is quite high and averages around 25-35 USD per gram, up to 45 USD per gram, depending on the quality. Such a high price is justified by the fact that a lot of work is required for its production.