The use of saffron in cakes and buns in Cornwall is interesting. At one time, saffron (a spice taken from the flower of a crocus), was common all across Europe and was used in both sweet and savoury food. In fact, in the Middle Ages meat and sweet ingredients like fruit was often mixed together. After the protestant reformation, people’s tastes changed, often for religious reasons. They began to prefer plain food rather things that were spicy because they believed that luxuries distracted them from God's teaching. Cornwall was the only place in the UK that kept using saffron and it is still common to see saffron cakes and buns in Cornish bakers. It was also traditional to serve saffron buns at feast days, Christmas and tea treats.
Although hot cross buns are now familiar to nearly everyone in Britain, years ago there was a great deal of difference in how they were made. In Cornwall the buns contained a currant paste and the dough was coloured with saffron. A large cross was then placed on the buns.