The Story of Saffron

AbruzzosaffronObtained from the dried and powdered stem of the ‘croccus sativus‘ which grows on the Navelli Plain in the Province of L’Aquila, saffron is considered by many to be the single most representative symbol of the traditional products of Abruzzo. 

An essential ingredient in Risotto Milanese the spice also crops up in many other dishes across Italy. For example, the fish soup found in Marche, south of the Monte Conero, contains saffron for its red coloring in place of the more traditional tomato.

This coloring property is also widely appreciated in the production of cakes and liqueurs and for centuries by painters in the preparation of dyes. Its additional curative powers have long been known to help digestion, rheumatism and colds.

How a flower of Middle Eastern origin found a home in this unfashionable corner of Italy can be attributed to a priest by the name of Santucci who introduced it to his native home 450 years ago.

Following his return from Spain at the height of the Inquisition, his familiarity with Arab-Andalusian tradition convinced him that the cultivation of the plant was possible in the plains of Abruzzo, and so it proved.

Nevertheless, even today the harvesting of saffron is hard and fastidious work with great skill needed to handle the stems without damaging the product inside or allowing contamination from other parts of the plant.

The area of cultivation in the region is strictly limited to 8 hectares of land. A sad reduction from the 430 hectares cultivated at the turn of the last century.

Together with the labor intensiveness of the production and the care and patience involved in gathering and drying the flower, the cost of Abruzzese saffron is high relative to its competitors from the Middle East and Iran.

Yet all are agreed it possesses superior aromatic qualities and remains the preferred choice in gourmet cooking. It is so good that the saffron from the area is practically all exported.

Anyone interested in buying the end product should note that although sachets of saffron powder can be purchased, the real thing should only be bought as the characteristic dried fine stems.

The saffron is grown in an area comprising the comune of Navelli, Civitaretenga, Camporciano, San Pio delle Camere and Prata D’Ansidonia.