The Mystery of Saffron Explained

By on May 14, 2019

Paella with Saffron

Paella with Saffron

A Guide to Saffron

Saffron is a spice, but not just any spice – it is in fact the most expensive spice in the world. But what makes it so expensive and how can we use it to full effect?

What is saffron?

Saffron is a spice which is used in cooking to impart flavor, color and aroma to foods. The saffron comes from the stigmas of the flower of the Crocus sativus plant which are picked before being dried and ready for use.

Saffron is grown in many countries around the world but the largest producer is Iran with over 90% of the world’s production. Iran is considered to have some of the best quality saffron in the world.

Why is saffron so expensive?

The Crocus sativus plant of which saffron is derived yields just three stigmas. Each stigma has to be hand picked so it is both a labor and time intensive task. Approximately 100,000 strands are needed to produce just 1 pound of saffron.

Nevertheless, saffron is actually quite economical and well within the budget of the average home cook since only a tiny amount is needed to achieve its full effect. Most recipes that include saffron as an ingredient will generally require just a pinch as a small amount goes a long way.

How to use saffron in cooking

Saffron is used in a diverse variety of dishes from rice, soups, and stews to sweet desserts and even tea. Saffron works particularly well in rice based dishes like Spanish Paella and risottos.

The spice is best soaked in water prior to adding to recipes. The longer the threads are left to soak, the stronger the color and flavor. Twenty minutes should be the minimum.

If you find you are in the middle of preparing a dish and have forgotten to soak the saffron you can just toss the strands into the pot. Bear in mind however that you will be losing some of the intensity of flavor and color doing it this way.

How to buy saffron

Saffron is graded by quality based on its color, flavor and aroma. It is sold either crushed or as threads but it is best to buy threads. They are in their purest form and you will be assured that they have not been adulterated with other spices which can occur with some powdered versions.

Look for saffron that is red, dry and brittle and has a strong aroma. It should have an ISO grade of at least 190 which is the minimum standard as set by the International Organization for Standardization.

Where to buy saffron

A prominent online supplier of Iranian sargol saffron threads can be found at saffron threads found here are recognized for their pronounced deep red color and aroma, perfect texture and quality. You’ll find this saffron consistantly ranks among the highest possible scores ranging from a 190 to 240 ISO.

How to store saffron

Like any other herb or spice Saffron should be stored in a cool, dark space. It is important that it is kept completely dry as any moisture could potentially ruin the saffron.

Some final tips

  • Avoid using wooden utensils when cooking with saffron as you will find that they will be stained a permanent shade of yellow.
  • Ensure you follow the recipe exactly when using saffron. Too much and you could spoil the taste of the meal.

Article provided courtesy of Only Cookware – a resource for all clad cookwarestainless steel pots and cast iron cookware sets.

About The Saucemaster

I've followed the food show circuit for years, charted the winners, and personally tested the cooking sauces. Though there are literally thousands of items represented at the food shows, I've only selected the top gourmet sauces in their category for your cooking and dining pleasure.

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