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Tuscan zafferano

Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) - a genus in the family Iridaceae - whose purple-red-orange coloured stigmas are dried and used in cooking as a seasoning and colouring agent. It has a characteristic bitter taste and a distinctively strong aroma.

There are many historical accounts of the production, the sale and the great value of this product of the Florentine Hills, which was once referred to and appreciated internationally by the name “zima di Firenze”. Saffron was also used to exchange goods, and as a spice in refined dishes. In Medieval times in Florence merchants from around the continent gathered to buy saffron. In 1440, at the time of Da Uzzano, an excise duty of 8 florins per load had to be paid on the saffron that travelled through Florence to differentiate it from the saffron produced locally. Some historians state that the towers of San Gimignano were paid for by the Saffron trade.

The Tuscan capital was the centre of an international market for the commerce of saffron. The precious stigmas constitute a commodity, whilst the flowers were used to adorn the tables of lavish banquets.

There is a new renaissance of Saffron growing in the province of Florence, and in particular in Mugello and down to San Gimignano (Si). Hillside, sunny terrains from 300 to 500 m.a.s.l. where the substrata are formed by sandy and calcareous marl, of clayey schist and sand, are the most suitable for this production because they present fairly loose, easily permeable ground. The bulbs are planted from the second half of August to the first of September. Mid October the flowers are handpicked and put in rooms until they wither and the stigma falls from the calyx. The stigmas are then collected in containers where they are dried (toasting) near the open flame of a fireplace or wood burning stove for 15-20 minutes or by other forms of fan heating systems. One hectare of land produces 80,000 kilos of fresh flowers, which means 60 kg of stigmas must be dried.

The small amount of the final product derived from such a large quantity of flowers, the laborious hand harvest and drying methods combine to make saffron the most expensive spice and "worth its weight in gold" literally and because saffron contains an impressive variety of plant compounds, these act as antioxidants that protect cells against free radicals and oxidative stress.

Notable saffron antioxidants include crocin, crocetin, safranal and kaempferol.

Crocin and crocetin are carotenoid pigments responsible for saffron’s red colour. Both compounds may have antidepressant properties, protect brain cells against progressive damage, improve inflammation, reduce appetite and 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.

kaempferol is found in saffron flower petals. This compound has been linked to health benefits, such as reduced inflammation, anticancer properties and antidepressant activity.

In some countries saffron adulteration is commonplace. Typical methods include mixing in extraneous substances like ground up dried red beet, pomegranate fibres, red-dyed silk fibres, and, most commonly, the saffron crocus’s tasteless and odourless yellow stamens.

Tuscan saffron is protected under the DOP (Denominazione d'Origine Protetta - Protected Designation of Origin) label. This is the same status that wine and other Italian delicacies enjoy. The DOP label guarantees that the saffron is produced, processed, and packaged in a specific geographical zone and according to tradition. Each step, from production to packaging, is regulated.

Some producers sell Saffron at their farms where a variety of infusions are available, our favourites include Tuscan honey with saffron and Panettone with Saffron

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