The most expensive spice comes from Greece

Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, was first domesticated and cultivated in Hellas in the Bronze Age. This is the conclusion of the German experts.

The experts who conducted the scientific study gave the final answer to the question of where saffron comes from, and refuted many pre-existing theories.

The spice is extracted from the flowers of saffron (Crocus sativus), which has been cultivated for thousands of years in the Mediterranean, from where it has spread to many other places and countries.

Today, saffron has many uses, from cooking and perfumery to dyes. Approximately 15,000 to 16,000 flowers, which take 370 to 470 hours to harvest, produce only about 1 kg of produce worth between $1,300 and $10,000.

Saffron is very expensive, but even the smallest amount in food is quite noticeable. The aroma of saffron is subtle and pleasant. It gives a deep orange-yellow color to dishes. Due to its high cost, saffron is often counterfeited, so be careful not to confuse it with a cheap substitute. They are very similar in appearance and have the same color, but the saffron substitute is completely devoid of its characteristic aroma. The best quality saffron is dark red or reddish brown and soft to the touch. After the expiration date, it turns pale, dries out, becomes brittle and largely loses its flavor.

Research results

Researchers led by Ludwig Mann from the Technical University of Dresden, who published the article “Frontiers in Plant Science” in the journal Plant Science, analyzed all available data and concluded that “ancient works of art and genetic material suggest that Greece is still in the Bronze Age. century, around 1700 B.C. or even earlier, was the source of cultivated saffron,” said Mann.

The genus Crocus, which includes about 250 species of wild plants, is distributed from South and Central Europe and North Africa to Western China. The first known use of wild saffron by humans was as a pigment for rock art, about 50,000 years ago, in present-day Iraq. Ancient Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian texts also describe the use of wild crocus as medicines and dyes.

The researchers stated that the origin of saffron cannot be easily determinedbecause the plant is difficult to study genetically, as it has three – instead of the usual two – copies of each chromosome, as well as a very large genome.

According to the study, probably the oldest depiction of cultivated crocuses in the world is from the Minoan civilization in the fresco “The Crocus Picker” around 1600 BC. The flowers of the plant are also depicted on Greek pottery and textiles from the Bronze Age. Tombs in Egypt 15-16 centuries BC depict ambassadors from Crete bringing fabrics dyed with saffron.

A 2019 genetic study showed that the C.cartwrightianus plant, the closest wild relative of the cultivated crocus, was only found on the Greek mainland, providing strong evidence that the plant’s original cultivation took place here.

Researchers estimate that modern saffron originated naturally, either from a related wild plant, C. cartwrightianus, or from hybrids between the latter and some other saffron species. Then the crocus was widely used by the Greeks of the Bronze Age, due to its excellent properties as a spice.

According to Dr. Tony Heitham, head of the plant genomics group at the Technical University of Dresden, “Today, in the world, all saffron flowers are, in fact, clones that go back to the appearance of saffron in ancient Greece. And although everyone has the same genome, saffron can have different properties, depending on the region.”

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