The art of saffron

Saffron, a member of the Iridaceae family, is a spice obtained from the stigmas of the Crocus sativus L.

Saffron is the only spice that did not come from the Far East, but from the Middle East: from Persia and the lower part of the Mediterranean. Its cost has always been higher than any other spice produced in the world, even if it did not have to be transported for long and risky journeys. Saffron gets the favor of European families and is always present in the recipe books of the Middle Ages.

Saffron is the spice par excellence thanks to the extraordinary perceptual, physical and metaphorical relevance that the preparations where it is used take on with the gold color.

Biologically, saffron, being a sterile triploid, does not happen and does not exist in the spontaneous state being unable to produce fruits and seeds. Saffron reproduces only vegetatively and this function is favored by cultivation which in the particular case of saffron produced in the territory of L’Aquila has become an art. By periodically intervening on the life cycle of saffron, men avoid the natural and gradual shrinking of the bulbs left in the ground, with fertilizations they bring them back to normal size and with an annual selection they make them immune to some diseases, at the same time favoring the conservation of precious morphological and phytochemical characters. From this it follows that this type of saffron with annual production is the most selected in the world and therefore the most valuable. The type of cultivation determines the differences between the saffron of different origins as regards the morphometric characteristics which can be different due to the selection linked to the cultivation, for the factors of environmental adaptability (climate and soil) and for the percentage content of some principles phytochemicals of stigmas.

The art and culture of the cultivation of Aquila Saffron were perfected in the Middle Ages by a friar of the Order of Preaching Friars (Ordo fratrum praedicatorum), a Dominican. The friar returning to the Aquila countryside from Spain where he went on a mission to make up for the spiritual misery of the Christian people and to fight heresy by preaching, modified the Spanish and Middle Eastern cultural practices by adapting them to the climate and soil of the area. To do this he developed the annual cycle crop for the first time. This Aquilan cultivation practice differs from that of other countries such as Spain, Greece, India and Sardinia, where it is generally used to leave the bulb-tubers in the ground for 3 to 8 years (multi-year cultivation). If saffron had been a spontaneous plant it would not have been able to grow naturally in the L’Aquila area due to the particularly harsh climate of the area and due to the numerous average annual rainfall. But from these limits the Dominicans, thanks to their intuition and their ingenuity, have thought and perfected the annual cultivation of saffron, and the climate, together with the soil, from limits have become the factors that have made the organoleptic characteristics of the saffron produced in the territory unique. of L’Aquila for centuries.


Retreating into solitude, the ancient monks were motivated by the desire to reach a form of simplicitas and rusticitas that clearly detached themselves from the cultural ideals of the time closely linked to city life. Monastic solitude, functional to meditation and prayer, produced in the Middle Ages a harmony and communion with the peasant world. From here comes the monastic tradition characterized not only by events of penance and bodily humiliations, but also by healthy and tasty products, by age-old knowledge, by medicinal herbs, by healthy elixirs, by techniques for the production of food and wine products.

The monastery then must be organized in such a way that everything needed is inside it, that is, the water, the mill, the vegetable garden and the various workshops, to remove from the monks any need to wander outside, which is not beneficial. at all to their souls (Rule of St. Benedict, chap. 66, 6-7). From time to time plowsers, farmers, gardeners, cooks, beekeepers, millers, nurserymen, cheesemakers, confectioners, winegrowers, distillers, the monks have left us an authentic culinary heritage. The Dominicans were a mendicant order founded in 1215 by Domenico di Guzman. The monks are called preacher friars and they attached great importance to study and sacred texts. The Dominicans, with their white dress closed by a leather belt, from 1234, played a very important role during the Inquisition. The Dominicans settled in the city of Aquila in the mid-thirteenth century with the foundation of San Domenico.