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History of saffron and its use in baking

Saffron is widely known as the most expensive spice, by weight, in the world. This ingredient is not among first ones you think of when baking, but it's used quite often – especially in certain regions of the globe.

Where does saffron come from anyway? Saffron is the dried orange-red stigmas of a kind of crocus flower. It's valuable because there are only 3 stigmas in each flower, and must be harvested carefully by hand just as the flower is opening. Numbers are incredible – it takes almost 70,000 crocus flowers to produce just one pound of dried saffron. That's the reason for a high price tag.

It's not only expensive, it also requires special treatment to fully extract its unique flowery, pungent, almost bitter character and deep orange color. Considering all in all and if you’re using small amounts (which is enough because it can easily overpower every other ingredient) in practice, saffron costs not much more than most seasonings 1.

From antiquity to modern times the history of saffron is full of applications in food, drink, and traditional herbal medicine. These fantastic red threads are prized from the ancient times in baking, curries, and liquor – from Africa, Asia, Europe to Americas, saffron is one of the most exotic spices to use in food industry. Modern technology has added another delicacy to the list: saffron ice cream.

When it comes to sweet treats, Swedish lussebulle is the most famous saffron baked goods. It's quite well spread around the world and only in Europe it's known under different names. A saffron bun, Cornish tea treat bun or revel bun, Swedish lussebulle or lussekatt, Norwegian lussekatt, etc. Every one of these names is a synonym for a rich, spiced yeast-leavened sweet bun that is flavored with saffron and cinnamon or nutmeg and contains currants like a teacake.

Generally, main ingredients include plain flour, butter, yeast, caster sugar, currant and sultanas. Larger versions baked in a loaf tin are known as saffron cake. When it comes to tradition, in parts of Britain, the buns were baked on sycamore leaves and dusted with powdered sugar. In Sweden and Norway no cinnamon or nutmeg is used in the bun, and raisins are used instead of currants.

Over the history, the buns were baked into many traditional shapes, of which the simplest is a reversed S-shape. They are traditionally eaten during Advent, and especially on Saint Lucy's Day, December 13. In addition to Sweden, they are also prepared and eaten in much the same way in Finland, above all in Swedish-speaking areas and by Swedish-speaking Finns, as well as in Norway and Denmark.

Bit of trivia which sets the importance of saffron in the Scandinavian baking – yellow saffron cakes and buns symbolize the sunshine in the long winter months in Sweden 2.

This expensive ingredient is quite a special treat, both for your palate and for the eyes because it's responsible for the vivid orange and red colors in the goods made with real saffron threads or powder. So, if you’re interested in tasting something luxurious and out of ordinary, do try a saffron treat and experience it for yourself.

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