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Health Benefits of Saffron
Saffron is the spice derived from the stigmas of the crocus sativus plant. It is labour intensive to harvest, taking approximately 160 crocus flowers to produce just 1 gram of Saffron, making it the most expensive spice in the world. However, like with all spices, when you buy the best quality available, a little goes a long way.
In the culinary world, Saffron, is most commonly used in Indian, Persian, European and Turkish cuisine, the same geographical regions that produce the spice. Saffron contains three primary components which contribute to both how it is used in cooking and how it can positively aid health.
Crocin is the chemical compound which provides the colouring to food when saffron is infused in warm liquids. Safranal is the compound primarily responsible for the aroma of saffron which is often described as being musty or honey like in nature. Picocrocin is the component that contributes most towards the flavour of saffron. The key to purchasing the best quality saffron is that the higher the colouring strength (crocin), the better the aroma (safranal) and flavour (picocrocin) content. Reputable vendors should be able to tell you this information. The price of saffron means that it is often subject to adulteration or cheap alternatives (like safflower or American Saffron) but now you can access certified organic saffron to further ensure its purity by knowing that there are no pesticide or chemicals used in its production.
All three of these compounds are not only correlated in terms of the quality of saffron but also studies relating to the health benefits of consuming saffron on a regular basis.
An 8 week clinical trial showed that 30mg (approximately 15-20 threads) of saffron taken daily by depressed patients was as effective as 20mg of Prozac (Akhondzadeh, 2007). Both Crocin and Safranal compounds help to maintain the presence of serotonin (commonly known as the happy chemical) in the brain for longer, promoting a more positive, energetic and happier mood.
All three compounds have been shown to be inhibit cancer cells, especially in colorectal cancers. Safranal is also thought to be a good antioxidant.
A recent 2012 study has shown how 20mg of saffron per day can restore vision to those suffering with age related poor vision or blindness.
Research has also shown how saffron may help with relief of pre-menstrual symptoms, inhibiting Alzheimer’s disease and improving heart health.
One of the easiest ways to incorporate more saffron into your diet is by making a saffron tea by infusing some high quality saffron in hot water.
Saffron, in large doses, may have contra-indications on certain medical conditions so consult with your medical doctor prior to regular use.