What you need to know: One of the most prized spices since ancient times, saffron’s medicinal qualities are as vibrant as its bright red color. The saffron plant bears lavender-colored flowers that bloom each season between October and November. These flowers contain three orange-yellow stigmas, which are connected to a stalk. These stigmas and stalks are what we know as saffron, the spice. Despite its small size, saffron contains a high vitamin and mineral content, including vitamin A and C, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, and manganese, copper and iron. This makes saffron an important player in maintaining a strong immune and cardiovascular system, while also aiding in red blood cell production.
Why you should try it: The most notable feature of saffron is its unique volatile oils and carotenoid compounds. Both have shown to have powerful antioxidant capabilities, slowing and/or even inhibiting the growth of tumors. Research has also shown that saffron is helpful in protecting the kidneys from toxin damage, and can reduce the side effects of the chemotherapy drug called cisplatin. Saffron may also improve neurological conditions such as memory loss by boosting glutathione levels and protecting the fatty tissue that composes the brain.
Let’s get together: Look for dried, whole pieces of saffron instead of the powdered version. This helps to ensure the medicinal qualities are in tact. A good indication of freshness is a bright red hue that is left on the fingertips after rubbing. Store in a dark, cool place to prevent oxidation (rancidity). A little goes a long way, so don’t be put off by the hefty price tag! Our favorite saffron-rich recipe? This unique recipe for dessert paella with dried figs and apricots.