Its origin is not very well-known. It is thought to originate somewhere between Iran and Greece. It spread throughout the Arab world and was introduced in Europe in the Middle Ages. Today it is cultivated in India, Morocco, Greece, Spain and Iran, the latter country being the world's top producer. French production, which restarted at the end of the 80s, in particular in Gâtinais area, is of very fine quality, but very rare.
Saffron is a crocus stamen, which is harvested by hand and then dried. During this last process, which is very delicate and determines the spice's quality, the saffron loses 4/5 of its weight. Between 100,000 and 150,000 flowers are needed to make a kilo of dried stigma. The yield is 2 kilos per hectare! It is exceptionally aromatic. One can discern aromas of cedar, tobacco, hay, citrus fruits, pepper, mint as well as floral notes with a slight bitterness.
Originating in India, this plant from the Zingiberaceae family (like ginger and cardamom) is cultivated today in its country of origin, in China, on the island of Mauritius and on the Island of Reunion.
Its taste is subtle, peppery with a slight bitterness and pungency. This spice is a strong dye like saffron. It is also called "safran bourbon" or "Indian Saffron".
Vanilla is an orchid from Mexico. It is a vine which has around 30 identified "sub-species". The vanilla from Mexico (vanilla fragans) and bourbon vanilla (vanilla fragans) from the Mascarene Islands and Madagascar are the most interesting, with powerful aromas. The vanilla from Tahiti (vanilla tahitensis), the vanilla from Java and the vanilla from the Caribbean are much less subtle and are primarily used in perfumery.
Many steaming and drying stages are necessary to produce a pod. Since pollination is done manually, it can sometimes takes up to two years to produce a high quality product. Four kilos of fresh pods are necessary to make a kilo of dried pods.
Only buy vanilla in pods. It must be very aromatic, shiny and flexible. Keep it in waxy paper away from light and high temperatures.