Biotechnology mass-produces valuable molecules from nature, from drugs to textiles to a jellyfish protein that lights up most anything a glowing green. Now add saffron to the list.
To cooks, saffron is a bright yellow spice derived from Crocus sativus flowers, aka "saffron crocus." The dried red threads at the blooms' centers are used to season and color foods. Popular for thousands of years, saffron comes today mostly from Iran. It's used to infuse meats, grains, salads, and even to color marshmallows molded into baby chick shapes for Easter.
Saffron has medicinal potential. The main pigment crocin may be useful as a neuroprotectant, an antidepressant, a sedative, and an antioxidant.
Inspiring a Song
To those of us of a certain age, the word "saffron" conjures up "mellow yellow," a 1966 song by Donovan:
I'm just mad about saffron
A-saffron's mad about me …
They call me mellow yellow …
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