The spice saffron is one of the opulent riches of oriental cuisine. It is one of the spices that used to be weighed in gold. In the narrow streets of Fez, but also on the markets in the surrounding area of the old royal city, Georg Berg was on the road, captured impressions with the camera and went in search of this red gold.
A day trip to the countryside around Fez also includes a visit to the spice market of Meknes. The city is an important commercial center due to agriculture in the fertile plain of Saïs. With a trained guide at your side, you will quickly learn how saffron of the best quality should smell and that the threads of Moroccan saffron should be bright red and have a length of 1 – 2 cm. Unlike spices such as turmeric, chili or paprika, which are piled up to form high cones and make for an impressive spice backdrop, the traders only have tiny quantities of the precious saffron itself in stock. And when the precious spice is weighed out, the weight of the packaging is meticulously calculated, because this can quickly be many times the desired quantity of saffron.
Saffron: Don’t lose the thread!
Saffron has been cultivated in Morocco for centuries. In the region around Taliouine, on the other side of the High Atlas, is the small village of Souktana. There, at an altitude of about 1100 meters, the most precious of all spices is cultivated. No more than 400 families in the region live from and with saffron. Picking the delicate blossoms must be done quickly, so all family members help out during this short harvesting phase. The delicate saffron threads are extracted from the flower of Crocus Sativus. For one kilo of the sweet-tart smelling pistil threads, 150,000 crocus flowers are harvested. The crocus blooms only once a year and only for two weeks. The daily output of a picker is 80 g. The filaments are odorless when harvested. Only through gentle drying do they develop their unmistakable fragrance.
Saffron is not only valuable, but also healing
Saffron was once used as an intoxicant and remedy. Real saffron tastes slightly bitter. The precious pistillate threads are not only important as a spice, they are also a natural medicine with a broad spectrum of effects. Saffron (Corcus sativus) has innumerable positive effects on health and is currently one of the best known natural universal remedies. It has anti-diabetic effects and can inhibit macular degeneration. It is used in natural medicine for stomach and intestinal colic, cough cramps, rheumatic complaints, exhaustion and lack of concentration.
And the eye eats with you – cooking with saffron
Saffron tastes incomparable. It gives fish a wonderful aroma. Saffron turns risotto into a delicacy. Saffron is also suitable for cakes and bread. It would be too bad to use saffron only as a coloring agent. Its active ingredients are water-soluble. In order to fully develop its flavor and effect, it should always be added at the end of the preparation. We are talking about quantities between 0.1 and 0.25 g, which are usually needed to prepare a dish. Saffron is traditionally used to color soups in Thailand, India and the Middle East. It tastes great with fish, chicken and vegetables or can also be used as a quickly made spread in a fine saffron butter.
Also in the Riad Arabesque one serves meals, which are refined with the gold from Morocco.
Bycatch in the search for saffron
During his excursions through the medina of Fez, Georg also made a very attractive bycatch: almost every girl had it in the 70s, it is already retro again, if not cult – the Moroccan folding purse. In Fez, when you visit the famous tanner’s quarter, you are also led into the souk of the leather goods merchants. Georg even tracked down this workshop and made a purchase of the iconic change purse in the most beautiful colors quasi directly from the factory. The tanners of Fès are particularly proud of their natural dyes, which are used exclusively for dyeing here.
More recipes like spicy chicken soup or baked potatoes with saffron can be found on the website Peter sei selig.