Persian New Year starts with spring equinox, with the rebirth of nature and the blooming of flowers and trees. It is the celebration of life and new beginnings. That is exactly why it is called “Norooz” meaning a new day! Norooz has been celebrated for thousands of year, dating back to Zoroastrian era of Persian Empire when nature was worshiped and sun and fire were considered holy. Even to this day, the holy fire of Iran has been kept lit for more than 2000 years by Zoroastrians in Yazd city, central Iran!
Saffron having fire in its nature and color grows in fiery lands of Iran. It is the beloved spice of Persian people and no celebration is complete without Saffron.
In this article, we will explore Persian New Year celebration and the place Saffron has in all of it.
What is Norooz celebration?
Norooz has specific rituals of celebration which starts with “haft sin” meaning “seven s”. It refers to 7 items placed in a setting to symbolize 7 qualities that Persian people wish to have in the New Year. The seven items are everyday foods and things such as apple (sib) symbolizing beauty, grains sprout (sabze) for rebirth and growth, Persian pudding (samanoo) for power and strength, vinegar (serke) for patience, garlic (sir) for health, wild olive (senjed) for love and coin (seke) for wealth and prosperity.
Holy book of Persian poems such as Shahname or Hafezname along with candles, mirror and colored eggs are also placed in the setting which remains in place till the 13th day of the New Year when celebration ends with a nationwide picnic in nature.
How does Saffron fit into Norooz celebration?
Saffron as the most famous export of Iran has a very special place in Persian culture and Norooz celebration being the oldest and most important tradition is obviously not leaving behind Saffron:
- Saffron Sweet treats
An important part of Norooz celebration is the traditional baking treats that are either made at home or bought from stores. They are placed next to “haft sin” table to serve guests who are visiting for Norooz celebration:
- Samanoo (pudding)
The first celebration treat is Samanoo which is always eaten after New Year countdown. It is a pudding made with wheat sprouts that have been grounded and the fluid extracted by pressing in a thin towel. The fluid is placed on fire in a copper pot and wheat floor is added gradually. It is cooked overnight until a thick pudding texture is achieved. It is consistently mixed to prevent burning. Saffron is added at the last moment so the flavor is not lost to heat. Whole almonds are also added at the end. Samanoo is naturally sweet with a unique taste that is unlike anything you have ever eaten.
- Sohan (brittle)
Brittles are loved both by adults and children for their crunchy texture but when Saffron is added to the mixture, the color becomes unique and the taste is divine. Persian brittles include wheat sprout flour that is mixed with sugar and dry heated for a few minutes. Then water is added and brought to a boil. Butter is added along with honey and Saffron which has been ground and soaked in warm water for 15 minutes. Temperature is carefully measured at this point to prevent overheating beyond 500 F (260 C). Almond flakes or pistachios are added and the hot mixture is spread and cooled in a sheet pan. It is then broken to bite sizes.
- Gaz (candy)
Egg whites are wiped to a solid foam. Then a simple sugar syrup is made with addition of Saffron and rose water. 2 Tablespoons of the syrup is first mixed with egg whites then all of it is added on stove and mixed with electric mixer to a thick consistency that is not sticky anymore. Removed from heat, pistachios are added. The dough is spread in baking sheet and after cooling; it is cut in square shapes.
- Loze badam (almond cookie)
It is made with sugar syrup that is wiped to a white and thick consistency. Then Saffron and almond flour is added till a soft dough is created. The dough is spread in a baking sheet and pistachios are sprinkled on top. It is rested in the fridge overnight and then cut to small diamond shapes.
- Cake yazdi (cupcake)
It has the basic cupcake formula with addition of Saffron and rose water that together smell divine. Saffron is powdered in a pestle and mortar and then soaked in rose water. This liquid is added to the wet ingredients. Milk is also replaced with yogurt.
- Shirini mashadi (butter cookie)Butter and sugar are creamed then egg is mixed. Soaked Saffron is added at this stage and then flour is mixed with spatula till the dough is formed. It can be used immediately or kept in fridge overnight. The dough is shaped into balls and flattened to round shapes that are sandwiched with marmalade in between. Pistachios are sprinkled on top then cookies are baked and cooled.
- Saffron drinksHaving many health benefits, Saffron is an integral part of Iranian herbal teas where it is added to simple black tea for addition of taste and benefit or it is mixed with rosewater for a calming golden drink.
- Saffron-roasted nutsNuts such as pistachios and almonds are central part of Norooz celebration. For additional taste, they are often roasted with salt and Saffron which gives them a golden hue and a divine taste.
- Saffron Gifts
Another important tradition of Norooz is the giving of gifts to family and friends. It is called “Eidi” which is often a freshly printed bill given by the elders to the youngsters but exchange of other gifts are also common. Saffron or as it called in Persian language “Zafferan” is such a valuable gift that every Iranian will be happy to give or receive.Final thoughts
Persian New Year is aligned with nature to celebrate rebirth and new beginnings. At the moment of spring equinox, people gather around “haft sin” table to wish themselves and others health and prosperity. Gifts are exchanged and sweet treats are eaten that taste the divine taste of Saffron!Persian Saffron is an integral part of “Norooz” celebration. Its beautiful golden yellow color decorates every treat and its exotic aroma fills every home.
The love story of Saffron and Persian New Year is old as it can get because it is celebration of nature with all its beauty and power.