The saffron: the scented gold of our tables with its delicious fragrant is one of the most expensive and valuable spices. It was the Arabs who introduced saffron from Asia Minor to Europe. In Italy it was introduced in the 14th century by a monk from Abruzzo, although it is reported that it was already cultivated in the south of the peninsula.





That the spice was already known is proved by various legends of Greek mythology that saffron was born from the love of the young Crocus for the nymph Smilace, a love contrasted by the gods who turned it into a beautiful flower. According to another legend, Mercury, who killed Crocus by mistake, dyed the plant blood to honor his friend. Virgilio, Plinio and other classics also often mention it in their works..


During the Middle Ages, the cultivation of saffron developed in the regions of central Italy – Tuscany, Umbria, Abruzzo and Marche –. The recipe of saffron risotto dates back to this period, during the construction of the Milan Cathedral. A master glassman, on the wedding day of his employer’s daughter, added this spice to the rice; to confirm what the father of the bride claimed, who often told him that he would put “saffron also in rice”…      No sooner said than done!


Not everyone knows that Italy is one of the largest producers of saffron. Famous for its goodness is the one cultivated since the 13th century in the province of L’Aquila which in 2005 obtained the protected designation of origin and whose production area includes a well-defined territory.


This precious spice, with countless beneficial effects and multiple uses even besides gastronomy (for example in cosmetics), is among the most expensive due to the laboriousness of the harvesting process; To have an idea just think that to get a kilo, you need to harvest about 170,000 flowers by hand.


So much notoriety is contrasted as much manipulation. Saffron is in fact the most counterfeited spice in the world, especially the powdered to which are added other parts of the plant or plants of lower-cost species such as turmeric, safflower, marigold and, in some cases, also minerals or synthetic dyes.


Therefore we have to distrust low costs, in fact in most cases are an indication of sophistication or adulteration. A special thanks goes to those young Italians who are relaunching the cultivation of the precious flower. But one thing is certain: not all that glitters is saffron.



Daniela Mainini




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