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The Secret History of the World's Priciest Spice

Saffron is worth its weight in gold, and can cost up to $16 a gram. Fortunately, it doesn't take much to make food taste heavenly. The reason it's so expensive is because it's hard to grow, hard to harvest, and the yield from each plant is tiny. That plant is the flower Crocus sativus, and saffron must be harvested by hand from each bloom. It has quite a storied history.     

Saffron is as old as time. Cleopatra was said to bathe in saffron-infused mare’s milk before seeing a suitor. “Saffron was used to dye the woolen bolero jackets worn by Minoan women; also in cosmetics, where it was mixed with red ochre, tallow, and beeswax to make lipstick,” says John O’Connell in The Book of Spice: From Anise to Zedoary. Medieval monks found that mixing a primitive glue of egg whites and saffron created a yellow glaze that could stand in for gold in the production of their manuscripts.

There's a lot more to the history of saffron. Read about it at National Geographic News, and for even more, check out a new podcast from The Atlantic. -via Metafilter

(Image credit: Martin Burns)

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