Saffron is a spice taken from the stigma of a crocus flower. Though native to Greece, the popularity of the seasoning led to its cultivation elsewhere and the biggest grower is now Iran, which accounts for around 90% of global production.
The enduring popularity of saffron prevails, despite the fact that it is one of the most expensive spices in the world, and it is used widely in cuisine as a flavour, a fragrance and a colourant.
The first known image of saffron stems from the Bronze Age, and frescoes from as early as 1600 – 1500 B.C. depict the flowers being harvested. It’s history is as rich as it is long – Cleopatra of Egypt was said to bathe in the spice, while in Greco-Roman times, Greeks would wear pouches of saffron in order to cover up the smell of their compatriots on theatre outings.
There is also a place in mythology for saffron – Hellenic legend speaks of handsome youth Crocus and his pursuit of a beautiful nymph, Smilax. They share a brief moment of love in the woods near Athens, but Smilax soon grows tired of Crocus’ attention and transforms him into a flower, the bright orange stigmas of which are said to represent unyielding, unrequited passion.
Though her reaction may seem strong to us in the Internet age, Smilax didn’t quite have the opportunity to unfollow poor old Crocus on Instagram and block his number on Whatsapp, so…
Saffron, once distilled, has a beautiful, gentle flavour. On the nose, it’s sweet and grassy, like sun-warmed hay. To taste, saffron lends a nice push to the juniper in a gin and while there is an overall savoury feel to it, the sweetness in the smell translates to the tongue and the overall flavour recalls cinnamon toast, albeit lightly.
Gins where Saffron is noticeable to taste:
Saffron-heavy gins include Cadenhead Old Raj and Saffron Gin. Both are leant a distinctive hue as a result of infusing the spice after distillation.
…In a Gin Old Fashioned. A saffron lead gin will lend a buttery note to the cocktail, and the mellow yellow tones will look great in a rocks glass.
If you are looking to make your own saffron infusion with a gin, opt for a classically styled dry gin as overly citrus gins are hit and miss with this most delicate of botanicals.
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