Saffron Scent: Pricey But Worth It
Saffron is a spice sourced from the saffron crocus flower. Human cultivation of this plant dates back over 3,500 years, during which time saffron scent and flavor have been sought after for use in perfumery and international cuisine. Iran currently produces the majority of the global supply of saffron, and a single gram can cost up to $16. Learn about the unique characteristics and storied history of this fragrant spice.
What Sets Saffron Scent Apart?
Saffron is sourced from purple saffron crocus flowers. Each flower only produces three stigmas, or threads, of saffron. The aromatic and flavorful stigmas must be harvested from closed blossoms in the mid-morning hours during the single week each year during which these flowers bloom. To obtain 1 ounce (28 grams) of saffron threads, it is necessary to harvest approximately 1,000 flowers.
Saffron scent is distinctive but can be difficult to describe. Sweet hay and honey evoke the prevailing characteristics of saffron, but this spice also has slightly bitter and unguent properties. Perfumers consider the aroma of saffron to have an earthy or leathery profile.
Natural saffron contains the compound safrole, which is restricted for use as an ingredient in fragrances. The odor components safranal and lanierone can be isolated from raw plant material for use at safe levels.
Where Does Saffron Scent Originate?
Botanical research suggests that the wild ancestor of the saffron crocus flower likely originated in Crete or Central Asia. Domesticated saffron crocus flowers have been traced to Greece and the ancient Mediterranean region. Propagating these blossoms requires human intervention through a painstaking process.
Some of the most costly ancient perfumes featured high-quality saffron cultivated on the island of Cyprus. The Phoenicians also traded saffron to perfumers in Rosetta in Lower Egypt. Fragrances containing saffron also have a long history in Persia, in the vicinity of modern-day Iran.
Persian saffron was woven into royal carpets and burial shrouds. The historical record also indicates that Persians infused saffron and sandalwood in water as a scented body wash. This traditional accord inspires VISIONARY in Esfahan, in which a top note of saffron mingles with floral and citrusy bergamot over middle notes of rose and woods and base notes of incense, musk and vetiver.
What Is the History of Saffron Scent?
One of the oldest references to saffron dates back to pre-Greek culture. Frescoes in the Knossos palace on the island of Crete depict a Minoan goddess overseeing humans and monkeys harvesting the spice. Another fresco shows a woman using saffron to treat her injured foot.
Saffron is also mentioned in ancient Greek legends. The nymph Smilax transforms a handsome young man named Crocus into a saffron crocus in one myth. In another version, Hermes, the messenger god, turns the dying Crocus into a saffron flower.
While the vibrant color of saffron threads and the medicinal properties of this spice are referenced over millennia, the historical record also indicates that royals and nobility treasured saffron scent. Queen Cleopatra is said to have bathed in saffron, and the spice was reportedly strewn through the streets of Rome to welcome Emperor Nero.
How Is Saffron Scent Used Today?
In the present day, odorous compounds are isolated from saffron crocus plants for use in perfumes and home fragrances. Saffron is sometimes called “the sunshine spice” on account of its bold color. Recent scientific research also backs up the traditional use of saffron in aromatherapy across cultures to treat the symptoms of depression.
Over 40 compounds related to saffron scent have been identified. Safranal is the main compound. Analysis of "Azafrán de La Mancha," the highest quality Spanish saffron, indicates that safranal represents more than 65% of the aroma components. This substance, along with other compounds present in all authentic saffron, provide the mood-boosting benefits associated with saffron.
Research into the benefits of saffron has also identified powerful antioxidants in saffron stigma and saffron crocus petals. The carotenoid pigments responsible for the color of saffron threads can have a wide range of wellness benefits when ingested. Studies also suggest that the scent of saffron can positively affect mood and memory.
What Are the Characteristics of Saffron Scent?
Saffron has characteristic pungent, sweet and earthy notes. This scent can be difficult to describe but is unmistakable. Other properties of saffron include rubbery or tar-like and woody qualities offset by a warm sweetness.
Citrus top notes, such as floral bergamot, play off of the complexity of this spice. In the scented candle VISIONARY in Esfahan, a rose floral note evokes the origin of most of the saffron grown today. The woodsy tones of saffron also resonate with Guaiac wood, bringing forth the spice aroma's tarry and leathery properties.
Saffron is also a natural choice to accompany other exotic spices, such as cinnamon or peppercorn. Both of these spices contain low levels of naturally occurring safrole, which is among the compounds that contribute to the scent of saffron.
How Can Saffron Scent Improve Your Mood?
Saffron has a uniquely enticing scent profile. In addition to its deodorizing properties, saffron has a long history of use in aromatherapy to reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress.
A 2011 study found that smelling saffron for 20 minutes can reduce anxiety and lower levels of stress-related hormones. A 2013 study further suggested that saffron could improve mood and knowledge recall while enhancing learning abilities.
A number of studies also support historical claims that saffron is an aphrodisiac. Stimulative effects have been observed among both men and women. While some benefits of saffron require ingesting at least 30 milligrams of pure threads, the scent of saffron alone can boost your mood.
What Is the Best Way To Savor Saffron Scent?
While the ancient Greeks and Romans scattered saffron threads to welcome emperors and ancient Egyptian royalty sprinkled this costly spice into bathwater to capture its inimitable aroma, there are more potent ways to savor saffron scent today. Light a scented candle that has notes of saffron to experience this legendary fragrance.