What are saffron threads?
Saffron threads are one of the most valuable spices in the world. It’s a reddish, aromatic spice obtained from the flowers of the Crocus Sativus plant. It’s an exotic spice native to southern Europe and widely cultivated in Iran. Saffron is also grown in France, Spain, and Italy.
During harvesting, the stigma and styles of the flower are what is picked. They are then known as saffron threads. These are then dried and used to make the saffron spice often used for seasoning, food coloring, and medicinal purposes.
For centuries, the Egyptian healers used saffron to treat gastrointestinal diseases, while the Romans used it to treat upper respiratory tract infections and promote wound healing.
In folk and Ayurvedic medicine, this spice was used as an expectorant, an adaptogen, asthmatic remedy, and for various pain-relieving preparations.
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Why is saffron so expensive?
The process of growing and harvesting saffron threads requires a lot of work, mainly because it’s manually hand-picked when ready. Also, saffron thread makes up a small part of the saffron flower. For instance, it takes 75,000 saffron flowers to make one pound of saffron spice. This makes saffron the most expensive spice in the world.
To be more precise, one pound (450 grams) of saffron costs 500-5000 US dollars.
Saffron is extensively known for its high antioxidant levels that help fight inflammation and protect against diseases like cancer. Here are a breakdown of some of this spice’s benefits:
1. It’s a good source of antioxidants
Saffron contains various plant compounds like Kaempferol, crocetin, croci, and safranal that give saffron its distinctive characteristics, including antioxidant properties.
Antioxidants are essential to the body as they help neutralize free radicles that cause oxidative stress.
Safranal is responsible for saffron’s aroma and taste. It has been shown to protect the brain against oxidative stress as well as improve memory, mood, and learning abilities.
Croci and crocetin are carotenoids responsible for saffron reddish-brownish or golden yellow color. These have also been shown to protect the brain, fight inflammation, and improve depression symptoms.
The last compound Kaempferol contains powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-depressant, and anticancer properties.
2. It’s a mood enhancer and may help improve depression
As mentioned above, saffron is rich in antioxidants that can promote a better mood and relieve depression.
In one study, consuming 30 grams of saffron in managing depression was found to be a safe and effective remedy.
In fact, saffron was shown to be as effective as antidepressant medications, fluoxetine, imipramine, and citalopram but without the side effects.
3. It may offer protection against cancer
The high antioxidants in saffron prevent harmful free radicals from causing cell damage, leading to various chronic conditions, including cancer.
Saffron compounds have specifically been shown to kill colon cancer cells and prevent their proliferation without causing any damage to normal body cells. These benefits cut across other cancers, including breast, lung, prostate, skin, cervical, and bone marrow cancers.
Furthermore, saffron can make cancer cells more responsive to chemotherapy medications.
4. It promotes satiety and weight loss
Taking a saffron supplement may increase the feeling of fullness, thus preventing one from overeating or unnecessary snacking, both of which contribute to weight gain.
Saffron may also reduce appetite, causing you to consume fewer calories than you need. This enhances the body to burn fat to meet your energy requirements.
5. It may reduce premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
75 percent of women within the menstrual bracket experience at least one sign of PMS each month. The only difference is that some have more severe symptoms than others.
These may include mood changes, food cravings, tender breasts, depression, and irritability.
The good news is, saffron may help improve such symptoms. In one study, researchers found that 30 grams of saffron taken daily can reduce PMS symptoms like headaches, irritability, pain, and cravings.
6. It may lower blood sugar levels
Although more research is needed to confirm this potential benefit in humans, lab studies show that saffron supplementation may increase insulin sensitivity, facilitating glucose uptake by muscle cells, thus promoting glucose regulation.
Where to buy saffron?
In my experience, the best quality and well-priced saffron I get comes from Indian or Middle Eastern groceries. Saffron can also be found in some grocery stores and most specialty grocers, but prices tend to be higher. A good option that may be better priced but more common is Trader Joe’s, but call ahead as they are not always sold. Lastly, of course, check out Amazon options.
Safety, health concerns, and dosage
Saffron is mostly consumed as a spice and a flavoring. Taking saffron by mouth in amounts usually present in food should be safe, while anything more may cause side effects.
Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and other digestive symptoms. One may also present with allergy symptoms like itching and reddening. If you experience any of these symptoms, discontinue and reintroduce in low doses. If you still can’t tolerate it, you could be allergic, so avoid it altogether.
A daily intake of less than 100mg for up to 26 weeks is considered safe for medicinal reasons. Keep in mind that consuming this amount or more of saffron is, in most cases, not possibly done accidentally. It also would get very pricy!
Can pregnant women take saffron? Anything within the limits found in food should be safe, while high consumption during pregnancy may result in uterine contractions with possible miscarriage.
Not enough research has been done on the safety of saffron on breastfeeding mothers, so if that’s you, just stick to the amount in food.
Since saffron affects mood, it may trigger impulsive behaviors in someone with bipolar disorder.
Final thoughts on saffron threads:
Saffron is a valuable spice treasured for its health benefits and the amount of work it takes to grow, harvest, and make it available for use.
It has been linked to various health benefits, including a high antioxidant profile that helps promote health and protect against multiple chronic conditions. It has also been shown to improve depression, aid weight loss, reduce premenstrual syndrome, enhance mood, and encourage blood glucose regulation.
Consuming it as a spice or a flavoring is the most convenient and safe method. However, if using it for medicinal purposes, always stick to the recommended doses.
Taking too much saffron by mouth may result in allergies, digestive symptoms, poisoning, and even death.
So always ensure you stick to the recommended doses. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have any underlying medical condition, consider seeking your doctor’s advice if planning to use saffron.
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