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Umbrian Gold: Saffron, a Spice Worth the Price of Gold

Updated: Jul 29, 2019

Umbrian Gold Saffron
Umbrian Gold Saffron

I have a local publication Lungo Lago to thank for raising my awareness of the long history of saffron in the region of Umbria where I live and run cooking vacations in Umbria. We think of saffron as a spice used to color and flavor foods when in fact, history tells us a different story. Dating back to the 13th century, saffron was a natural tint used for coloring cloths and paint.

Citta della Pieve, a stone’s throw from our kitchen, produces the crocus sativus, prized for the golden red threads that we know as saffron. The great Il Perugino -Pietro Vanucci -born there in the 14th century and famous for “Baptism of Christ with John the Baptist” hangs in the town’s church. Perhaps he used this precious spice.

How lucky are we to have fields of crocus grown locally? From pasta sauces to risotto and broths the delicate threads can add both a golden yellow color and slightly astringent flavor. At 4 euros for one-tenth of a gram, saffron can easily be called the most expensive spice in the world, That’s about 40000 euros for 1 kg. Put in dollars at today’s exchange rates, we are talking about $ 20,550 per pound. Perhaps those threads would do better put in a vault instead of our mouths.

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