Saffron is unique among spices. How do you harvest and store the fine, spicy styles of this crocus species correctly? Find out here. The saffron crocus ( Crocus sativus ) does not bloom until late in the year, namely from October. At the same time and already in September, the autumn crocus ( Colchicum autumnale ) blooms, which can be found wild on many meadows, light forests, and also in gardens. The two look very similar, but the latter is extremely poisonous and can be fatal if any part of the plant is consumed.
How do you distinguish between the saffron crocus and the autumn crocus? Initially, both flowers are purple and each has six petals. However, there are two distinctive features: the leaves and the scars. The autumn crocus flowers in autumn without any green foliage, while the saffron crocus only forms its chive-like leaves in autumn just before flowering.
The second big difference is the size and color of the scars, the female genitals. In the saffron crocus, these are very large, long, and deep orange to reddish in color. The autumn crocus, on the other hand, has comparatively inconspicuous, shorter white stigmas with a yellow style. If you consider these two characteristics, it is hardly possible to confuse the expensive spice crocus with the poisonous double.
You can find more exciting facts and tips on how to deal with autumn crops in our special article. In the following paragraphs, we will explain step by step how to harvest, dry, and properly store saffron.
Harvesting saffron: timing and procedure
Only the long red stigmas are removed from the flower of the saffron crocus. The smoky, spicy, and earthy aroma of saffron can only be found in these flower organs. Harvesting saffron is purely manual work. To get 1 kg of finished spice, up to 150,000 flower stigmas have to be collected, separated from the stylus, and then dried. In each flower, however, there are only three of the previous threads. The labor and land-intensive cultivation make saffron the most expensive spice in the world at 10 to 15 $ per gram.
The saffron harvest time is just three weeks in October. The orange threads lose their color and aroma due to excessive exposure to the sun during harvest. It is, therefore, best to harvest in the morning hours on rain-free days.
Separating the red stylus threads from the rest of the flower is also called thinning out. If you want to harvest saffron yourself, it is advisable to use tweezers or, with a little sensitivity, your bare hands to pluck the threads from the saffron blossom. The spicy stigmas can be removed directly so that the rest of the flower remains in an ornamental way. However, you can also collect the entire flower and harvest the saffron threads in a further step. Picking the saffron flower as a whole is faster. Above all, you don’t have to work in the stooped position for too long. After all, saffron only grows to a height of 10 to 15 cm. Back-friendly work is hardly possible.
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The leaves of the saffron are left standing in the cold season and only dry up in the next spring. In this way, the tuber can still collect reserve material for the next sprout over the winter.
Store saffron properly
The sensitive scars hardly last a day and drying the saffron is the only way to increase the shelf life. Spread the threads out on a baking sheet or something similar and let them dry in the warm, but not in direct sun. Saffron dries very quickly, and the precious spice can then be stored in less than an hour. Gentle drying in the oven at a maximum of 40 ° C for 15 to 30 minutes can help if the outside temperature is cool.
The saffron threads should be enclosed airtight and protected from humidity. Dark-tinted, aroma-preserving vessels that also keep moisture away are ideal for storing saffron. The expensive spice is best-stored whole in the form of the typical threads. There is no risk of confusing saffron in the form of a ground powder with the powder of turmeric ( Curcuma longa ).
In fact, the counterfeit saffron powder is not uncommon on the market as it is an extremely lucrative business for scammers. Therefore, when buying, make sure to purchase the saffron in its original form as stylus threads. Saffron can be kept for at least three years after harvest and, under good storage conditions, hardly loses its flavor and color.
The most expensive of all spices have been a status symbol for the rich since the Middle Ages. Did you know that with a little luck and in suitable locations, you can also grow saffron in our latitudes? In our article, you will find tips on the location, planting, and care of the saffron crocus.