Saffron, the yellow-orange stigmas from a small purple saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), is the world's most expensive spice. That's because each flower provides only three red stigmas, and it takes approximately 14,000 of these tiny threads for each ounce of saffron. One ounce of saffron equals the stigmas from approximately 5,000 crocuses. It takes an acre of flowers to produce a pound.
Ancient Romans used to perfume their baths with saffron. Court
ladies of Henry VIII's reign tinted their hair with saffron until
the monarch forbade it; he feared a saffron shortage that might
reach his own table. In the 1400', German dealers who were caught
adulterating saffron were burned at the stake.
According to Greek myth, handsome mortal Crocos
fell in love with the beautiful nymph Smilax. But his favours were
rebuffed by Smilax, and he was turned into a beautiful purple crocus
flower. A native of the Mediterranean, saffron is now imported
primarily from Spain, where Moslems had introduced it in the 8th
century along with rice and sugar. Valencia coup (coupé meaning
“to cut” off the yellow parts from the stigmas) saffron is
generally considered the best, though Kashmir now rivals this
reputation. Saffron is also cultivated in India, Turkey, China and
Iran. The name is from the Arabic word zafaran which means
‘yellow’. The French culinary term safrané means ‘coloured
using saffron’. Its colouring properties have been as prized as
its unique flavour. In India its colour is considered the epitome of
beauty and is the official colour of Hindu/Buddhist robes.