How to dry saffron
Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) is one of the most sought after spices but also more delicate to grow and preserve. In this sheet we see how to dry the saffron, the techniques and the most appropriate measures. We must immediately say that a good final product is also born during the harvesting phase, so we have to talk about this important phase of the saffron cultivation technique. The best time to harvest saffron is when the flower blooms from the plant; in fact saffron will have better organoleptic and aromatic characteristics if the flowers are picked before they hatch, which means that during this period, the saffron cultivation should be checked daily, especially in the morning period. To get the best quality and keep all the scent the flower should be picked at dawn, before the flowers hatch, so that the pistils are not touched by the sun. The drying must take place the same day the flower is picked, so it is advisable to remove the pistils and dry them as soon as the harvest is over.
To understand how and when to collect we make simple clarifications: the saffron flower is composed of purple petals, yellow anthers and stigmas, which are three thin strands of an intense red color; the stigmas represent the part to be collected, making a separation from the rest of the flower. The harvesting technique consists therefore in opening the flowers and removing very delicately the three delicate and thin red threads. These will be subjected to the next drying phase that can be carried out in different ways (which changes from country to country and according to different traditions: in the sun, with the embers, in the ventilated oven, with a heat source or with the dryer. we will see two simpler and more practical techniques: in the ventilated oven and with the dryer.
The one with the ventilated oven is a good technique for small crops and therefore domestic. The system is quite simple; you have to place the stigmas on a baking paper and put them in the oven at a temperature of 50 degrees, leaving a crack to allow a good air exchange. The average time needed to dry the stigmas is around 20 minutes but you have to be careful, especially in the last few minutes, to check that the stigmas do not burn. The experience then with time will do the rest.
Drying with the dryer is obviously of a more professional type and, depending on the capacity of the dryer, more or less saffron batches can be processed. The dryer is composed of thermostats and humidity control systems; this allows a perfect evaporation of the water without ever “cooking” the saffron, thus preserving the aroma as much as possible. The best dryers for saffron drying are those with horizontal ventilation with the same level of all trays where saffron is contained. This allows obtaining a homogeneous product which, in the case of products to be sold, must always maintain the same quality standard.
Once the stigmas have dried, they must be stabilized and can be used after about a month, as the freshly dried saffron is too sweet and fragrant with flowers. At the end of drying you can opt for two solutions: grind the pistils or leave them whole; this obviously depends on the type of product you want to offer.