Saffron: Benefits, Nutrition, Side Effects & Ways to Use

Saffron is the golden-coloured and pungent stigmas of the autumn crocus. It is dried and used to flavour foods and dye to colour foods and other products. It has a solid and exotic aroma and a bitter taste. Saffron is an expensive spice with a historical culinary significance. The perennial plant belongs to the Iridaceae family. However, the name saffron comes from the Arabic word Zaffran.

Saffron’s exorbitant cost is due to the laborious task of harvesting. First, farmers separate the delicate strands from each flower manually. Then, they heat and cure the threads to enhance their flavour. The extra labour amounts to the cost and benefits of saffron. Hence, it is also known as the king of spices.

It takes around 36,000 flowers to yield 1 pound of dried threads or stigmas. Over 200,000 dried stigmas yield 500 grams of pure saffron. Saffron cultivation happens under specific climatic conditions in Iran, India, and southern Europe. The benefits of saffron are various. 

Predominantly, saffron is a natural seasoning and flavouring spice for delicacies. Furthermore, people use it as a preservative, natural colouring agent and key ingredient in many cuisines. Also, many people use it as pharmaceutical and traditional medicine.

As a result, saffron refines a wide array of cuisines worldwide. For example, it is an excellent addition to the Spanish Paella, Indian Pulao, Iranian stew dishes, seafood and dessert recipes. It is also a key ingredient in specific French recipes. Also, other celebrated dishes are Iranian steamed saffron rice with tahdig, Persian almond cake, and Indian recipes with saffron syrup.

Nutritional Properties of Saffron

Saffron has a wide variety of plant compounds that act as antioxidants. Major saffron antioxidants include crocin, crocetin, safranal and kemperanol. As per studies, they protect your cells against both free radicals and oxidative stress. 

Crocin and crocetin are carotenoid pigments. They are colour giving pigment for saffron. Both the compounds have antidepressant properties. Safranal gives saffron its unique taste and aroma.

Saffron contains the following nutrients per 100 grams.

  • Calcium- 111 milligrams 
  • Iron- 11.1 mg
  • Potassium- 1724mg
  • Total fat- 6 g
  • Cholesterol- 0 gm
  • Sodium- 148
  • Potassium- 1724 mg
  • Dietary fibre- 3.9mg
  • Protein- 11gm

Vitamins and Minerals (Required Daily Intake)  

  • Iron- 61%
  • Vitamin C- 134%
  • Vitamin B6- 50%
  • Magnesium- 66%
  • Calcium- 11%

Health Benefits of Saffron

Saffron has a strong aroma and a beautiful colour. Ayurveda celebrates saffron as a natural sedative and expectorant. It is a rich source of antioxidants with numerous health benefits. 

Moreover, saffron plays a vital role in asthmatic treatment. It is an emmenagogue and apoptogenic agent. Hence including natural immunity boosters like saffron in your daily diet may help. Saffron is a storehouse of carminative, diaphoretic and aphrodisiac properties.

In ancient times, people used saffron in opioid preparations as an analgesic or painkiller. Studies state that saffron elevates mood, fight oxidative stress. Saffron is generally safe to consume across all ages within the prescribed doses.

Saffron contains the following pigments:  

  • Crocin
  • Crocetin
  • Picrococin
  • Safranal

The benefits and uses of saffron are prominent due to the presence of these compounds. 

Carotenoids like crocin and crocetin are responsible for saffron’s red colour. They have antidepressant properties. Studies suggest that they also protect brain cells against progressive damage, improve inflammation, reduce appetite, and aid weight loss.

Kaempferol in saffron flower petals has several health benefits. For example, it reduces inflammation, has anti-cancer properties, and works as an antidepressant.

Lastly, safranal helps give saffron its distinct aroma and taste. Moreover, research shows that it helps improve your memory and learning ability and enhances your mood. It also protects your brain cells against oxidative stress.

Here, let us evaluate more about the potential health benefits of saffron.

1. Powerful Antioxidant

Saffron contains various plant compounds, which act as antioxidants. These antioxidants include crocin, crocetin, safranal and kaempferol. They help protect your cells against oxidative stress and free radicals.

2. Treat Depressive Symptoms and Improves Mood

The “sunshine spice” saffron elevates your mood. It is due to safranal, which is an antioxidant. Many supplements use saffron as it is effective for treating mild-to-moderate depression. In addition, there are no side effects such supplement based treatments.

3. Cancer-Fighting Properties

Saffron is full of antioxidants. It neutralises the destructive free radicals. These free radicals lead to the production of tumours, which may cause cancer. Studies suggest that chronic inflammation and oxidative stress are the major causes of age-related diseases and cancer.

The antioxidants in saffron target and suppress cancer cells, especially on the colon, skin, prostate, lung, etc. They inhibit their growth by securing healthy cells.

4. Reduce PMS Symptoms

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a collective term for a series of physical, emotional, and psychological imbalances. Symptoms manifest before the onset of a menstrual period. Saffron may help curtail the PMS symptoms.

Scientific observations state that 30 mg of daily intake of saffron is more effective than the placebo treatment. Moreover, the cortisol (stress hormone) levels reduce, curtailing anxiety.

5. Boosts Libido

As per studies, supplements with herbal aphrodisiacs boost your libido. Saffron may have aphrodisiac properties for both men and women. Therefore, regular intake of prescribed saffron may significantly improve erectile function. It is effective, especially for those under antidepressant medication.

6. Reduces Appetite and Enhance Weight Loss

The dietary fibre in saffron makes you feel full for longer. Therefore, people consuming saffron supplements feel significantly full. Also, the dietary fibre reduces appetite and curtails unhealthy snacking. As a result, it prevents you from binge eating and enhances weight loss.

7. Reduces Blood Pressure and Prevents Heart Diseases

As per research, the antioxidants in saffron can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. The flavonoids, especially lycopene, found in saffron can provide added protection. 

Saffron is rich in potassium. Hence, regular intake of saffron aids in dilating the blood vessels. It further eliminates blockage from your arteries. So, saffron lowers your blood pressure to prevent cardiac arrests and strokes.

A study shows that the people of the Mediterranean region who consume saffron as a part of a regular diet report lesser cases of heart diseases. It may be due to saffron’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It also has cholesterol-lowering benefits. In addition, the presence of crocetin decreases the bad or harmful cholesterol in your blood. 

It also prevents the clogging of fat deposits in blood vessels and arteries. Therefore, it lowers your risks of heart attacks or associated cardiac disorders. Saffron also boosts your immunity. 

8. Subsides the Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

Research highlights the effectiveness of saffron in combating Alzheimer’s. It shows that a regular intake of saffron supplements leads to better cognitive function in people with Alzheimer’s. The antioxidant properties avert the accumulation of beta-amyloid protein in your brain. 

9. Reduce Blood Sugar Levels in Diabetics

As per research, the saffron hydroalcoholic extract may improve blood glucose control by reducing fasting blood sugar in T2D patients. However, it has no significant effect on other aspects of diabetic control in diabetics. Saffron may elevate insulin sensitivity. 

10. Improves Eyesight

Several observations show that saffron refines eyesight in adults with a history of age-related macular degeneration disorder (AMD). Furthermore, the antioxidant properties in saffron protect against free radical damage associated with AMD.

11. Skin Care Benefits

Apart from its culinary uses, saffron possesses various beauty benefits. The anti-inflammatory ingredient nurtures to impart a blemish-free radiance to your skin. Therefore, several beauty creams and other cosmetic products use saffron as their primary ingredient. It gives the skin a glowing touch and makes it soft and supple. Like all other benefits, it is also due to saffron’s antioxidant properties. Saffron can act as a topical applicant for:

  • Skin lightening and texture
  • Pigmentation
  • Scar healing
  • Cure for blemishes and acne

Ways to Use Saffron

Saffron has an exceptional voice in the realm of spices. It is known as the king of spices owing to its uniqueness. Although it is the most expensive spice, a small quantity goes a long way. You may not require more than a pinch to impart flavour to your recipes. On the other hand, too much saffron may give a medicinal taste to your food.

Let us dwell on the various ways to use saffron. It begins with multiple guidelines:

  • Check for quality saffron.
  • Superior quality is always a bunch of long red, bright strands with orange tendrils and a trumpet-shaped flute on the ends.
  • Avoid powdered saffron, as it’s usually mixed with many fillers.
  • The colour of red saffron doesn’t change if you dip it in water or milk.
  • It has a pungent and musty taste with a sweet floral fragrance.
  • Crush and soak the threads to extract the maximum amount of flavour.
  • Steep the crushed saffron in warm water, stock for 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Add the soaked saffron liquid directly.

Grain-based Recipes

Most recipes of saffron are grain-based, which includes risotto, pilaf, pulav, biryani etc. As a guideline, use about 14-30 saffron strands to four servings of risotto or rice made with 300 g of rice. The fragrance of saffron makes the rice aromatic. The addition of saffron complements the taste and improves the nutritional value of rice.

Saffron as an Appetiser

An appetiser is always light and simple. A saffron soup is an appetiser with a Mediterranean touch.

To Combat Hair loss

The non-culinary use of saffron comes in hair care too. The antioxidant property of saffron helps to repair hair damage and promotes growth. You may use a teaspoon of saffron strands mixed with almond oil or coconut oil. Massage your hair well for healthy growth.

For Skin Care

Topical applications of saffron lighten and brighten up your skin. The actual application varies on the intended use. In general, you can use a saffron milk mask to hydrate and soften skin. In addition, you can use it to treat acne and blemishes.

Baking with Saffron

The sweetness and aromatic flavour of saffron make the desserts unique. The combination of vanilla and saffron gives a fragrant touch to your dish. Use them to add a zing to plain pastries, cakes, bread etc. 

Saffron Milk

The first and foremost recipe for saffron is simply saffron milk or Kesar milk. It is a delicious and healthy drink infused with saffron.

Healthy Recipes with Saffron

This magical spice has been known for its exceptional nutritional and medicinal properties for ages. The nutrient can ward off and cure many health concerns. Moreover, saffron is a versatile spice to boost your immunity and protect you from the climatic ailments at bay. Globally, when encountering many health concerns, being healthy is essential.

Here are two simple and easy saffron drinks used globally, especially during winter.

1. Saffron Milk

  • Preparation time- 10 mins
  • Serves- 3
  • Calories- 110 kcal
  • 1 Cup = 250 ml

Ingredients

  • Milk: 3 cups
  • Saffron Strands: 15
  • Jaggery Powder: 2 tbsp (optional)

Procedure

  • Bring milk to a boil
  • Add saffron strands
  • Mix well
  • Simmer for 4-5 minutes
  • Serve Hot

Saffron Milk Benefits

  • Saffron milk is healthy for your heart.
  • It is a memory booster and treats insomnia or sleeplessness.
  • Saffron milk helps protect against cold and flu, especially during winter.
  • Relieves menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome symptoms.
  • Aids in asthma & allergic treatments.
  • It is also good for your skin and hair.
  • Saffron milk is also beneficial during pregnancy.
  • Milk is rich in calcium. Hence, it helps improve bone health.

Points to Remember

  • Don’t use more than 20 strands of saffron in this recipe. An excess intake of saffron can be toxic.
  • Although saffron milk is beneficial during pregnancy, you should consume it in prescribed and recommended quantities to avoid adverse effects and health issues.
  • Check with your physician before any dietary alterations.

2. Saffron Tea

  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes
  • Servings: 3
  • Calories: 29kcal

Ingredients 

  • Water: 3 cups
  • Mint Leaves: 10
  • Cardamom: 3 pods
  • Cloves: 3
  • Saffron Strands: 3-4
  • Ginger: 1/2 inch
  • Lime juice: 2 tsp
  • Honey: 2 tbsp (optional) 

Instructions

  • Boil water with cardamom, grated ginger, mint leaves, and saffron for 3-4 minutes.
  • Simmer for 2-3 minutes and take off the flame.
  • Stir in lemon juice, honey and serve hot.

Saffron: Possible Side Effects and Precautions

Saffron is usually safe to consume and has minimal adverse effects. Clinical studies have evaluated doses ranging from 20 to 400 mg/day of pure saffron. Dosages of up to 1.5 g/day of saffron are thought to be safe; toxic effects have been reported for 5 g doses. However, there are certain health conditions where you should use saffron cautiously. 

1. Pregnancy

Saffron is a flavouring spice in foods. However, an excessive quantity of saffron may make your uterus contract and result in a miscarriage. A study shows that exposure to very high levels of saffron may increase the miscarriage rate in pregnant females. Therefore, pregnant women should avoid using a high dose of saffron.

2. Breastfeeding

There is no sufficient scientific information to confirm the safe quantity of saffron for lactating or breastfeeding mothers. Therefore, you should consult with your gynaecologist to avert any adverse effects for you and your baby.

3. Psychological treatment

Saffron alters your mood. It may trigger impulsive behaviour in patients with bipolar disorder or other psychological imbalances.  

4. Plant Allergy

People who are allergic to a particular variety of plants may be allergic to saffron. So ensure you are safe from saffron. Immediately seek help from your health care provider in case of rash or allergy. 

5. Surgery

Saffron soothes the central nervous system. Therefore, discontinue saffron two weeks before a scheduled surgery. This precaution avoids any interaction of anaesthesia and other drugs during surgery.

There are a few more things that you should remember regarding saffron consumption.

  • Consult your physician before including any supplements.
  • Excess doses of 5 grams or beyond may have toxic effects.
  • Saffron powder may be adulterated with artificial colours. Hence, buy from a reliable source.

The Bottom Line

Saffron is an expensive culinary herb. The significant benefit of saffron is that it contains antioxidant compounds. It may help reduce or avoid the risk of certain chronic health disorders associated with oxidative stress. The best part is it is generally safe for people across all age groups. It is easy to include in your daily diet. Incorporate saffron into your recipes yield the potential health benefits of saffron.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What are the health benefits of saffron?

A. Saffron is a rich source of antioxidants. As a result, it prevents nervous system disorders, acts as an antidepressant, promotes libido and prevents cancer. However, there are several other benefits given in the article above.

Q. What are the side effects of saffron?

A. Some of the possible side effects can be allergic reactions, drowsiness, nausea or vomiting. 

Q. Is saffron good for the skin?

A. Yes, saffron is beneficial for the skin. The anti-inflammatory ingredient nurtures to impart a blemish-free radiance to your skin. As a result, it helps get soft and supple skin. 

Q. Can I drink saffron water every day?

A. Yes, you can drink saffron water every day as a dietary supplement. It has several health benefits.

Q. Can I drink saffron at night?

A. Yes, it is safe to drink it at bedtime. The sedative properties of saffron help treat insomnia and improve sleep quality. However, the best time to have saffron water is during the day.

Q. How much saffron should I use?

A. A daily intake of 1.5 g/day of saffron is safe to use. Over Consumption may lead to some side effects. 

Q. Is it good to drink saffron milk every day?

A. Yes. Drinking saffron milk helps you with enhanced digestion, appetite, immunity and overall health.

Q. Is saffron good for female fertility?

A. Yes, it boosts libido and is good for both men and women.

Q. What are the benefits of saffron milk?

A. There are several benefits of saffron milk. It is healthy for your heart, boosts memory, and protects against flu. In addition, it may help treat insomnia and improve sleep quality, relieves menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome symptoms. It is also beneficial for skin and hair.

Q. What is the right time to drink saffron milk?

A. You can have saffron milk in the morning on an empty stomach or consume it in the evening. However, having it at night before sleeping is also beneficial. 

Q. What happens if you eat saffron every day?

A. It helps you with enhanced digestion, appetite, immunity and overall health benefits.

Q. What is the use of saffron for pregnant ladies?

A. Saffron is an excellent anti-anxiety and antidepressant supplement. It cures mood swings during the pregnancy period. However, overconsumption has severe adverse effects as well.

Q. Is saffron good for babies?

A. Yes, saffron is good and safe for babies over six months. It enhances their immune system, aids in digestion and ensures oral hygiene. 

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