Saffron (pronounced /'sÃ¦fr?n/, /'sÃ¦fr?n/) is a spice derived from the dried stigma of the flower of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), a species of crocus in the family Iridaceae. The flower has three stigmas, which are the distal ends of the plant's carpels. Together with its style, the stalk connecting the stigmas to the rest of the plant, these components are often dried and used in cooking as a seasoning and coloring agent. Saffron, which has for decades been the world's most expensive spice by weight, is native to Southwest Asia. Saffron is characterized by a bitter taste and an iodoform- or hay-like fragrance; these are caused by the chemicals picrocrocin and safranal. It also contains a carotenoid dye, crocin, that gives food a rich golden-yellow hue. These traits make saffron a much-sought ingredient in many foods worldwide. Saffron also has medicinal applications. The word saffron originated from the 12th-century Old French term safran, which derives from the Latin word safranum. Safranum is also related to the Italian zafferano and Spanish azafrÃ¡n. Safranum comes from the Arabic word a?far (????????), which means "yellow," via the Persian paronymous za?faran (???????????). Saffron is known as 'Kasubha' in Filipino, 'Kesar' in Hindi/Sanskrit, and 'Kong' in Urdu Saffron's aroma is often described by connoisseurs as reminiscent of metallic honey with grassy or hay-like notes, while its taste has also been noted as hay-like and somewhat bitter. Saffron also contributes a luminous yellow-orange colouring to foods. Saffron is widely used in Iranian (Persian), Arab, Central Asian, European, Indian, Turkish and Cornish cuisines. Confectionaries and liquors also often include saffron. Common saffron substitutes include safflower (Carthamus tinctorius, which is often sold as "Portuguese saffron" or "assafroa") and turmeric (Curcuma longa). Medicinally, saffron has a long history as part of traditional healing; modern medicine has also discovered saffron as having anticarcinogenic (cancer-suppressing), anti-mutagenic (mutation-preventing), immunomodulating, and antioxidant-like properties. Early studies show that saffron may protect the eyes from the direct effects of bright light and retinal stress apart from slowing down macular degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa. Saffron has also been used as a fabric dye, particularly in China and India, and in perfumery.Most saffron is grown in a belt of land ranging from the Mediterranean in the west to India in the east. Annually, around 300 tonnes of saffron are produced worldwide. Iran ranks first in the world production of saffron, with more than 94 percent of the world yield. Iran's annual saffron production is expected to hit 300 tons by the end of the nation's Fourth Five-Year Socioeconomic Development Plan in 2009. Other minor producers of saffron are Spain, India, Greece, Azerbaijan and Italy. A pound of dry saffron (0.45 kg) requires 50,000â€“75,000 flowers, the equivalent of a football field's area of cultivation. Some forty hours of labour are needed to pick 150,000 flowers. Upon extraction, stigmas are dried quickly and (preferably) sealed in airtight containers. Saffron prices at wholesale and retail rates range from US$500/pound to US$5,000/pound (US$1,100â€“US$11,000 per kilogram)â€”equivalent to Â£250/â‚¬350 per pound or Â£5,500/â‚¬7,500 per kilo. In Western countries, the average retail price is $1,000/Â£500/â‚¬700 per pound (US$2,200/Â£1,100/â‚¬1,550 per kilogram). A pound comprises between 70,000 and 200,000 threads. Vivid crimson colouring, slight moistness, elasticity, and lack of broken-off thread debris are all traits of fresh saffron.