This week has been an exploration of saffron, hands-down my favorite spice. It’s application in food will take you all over the world and if you’ve never used the spice before, I hope you give it a shot!

saffron

What is saffron?

Saffron is a spice but unlike many spices that are derived from seeds, roots or bark, saffron is the red-orange stigma of a flower called the saffron crocus. The stigma are then dried and are either crushed into powder form or left in strands. Saffron is used all over the world from Morocco to Iran to India to Spain and even to Sweden!

Why is it so damn expensive?!

Each strand of saffron is handpicked from the saffron crocus, which makes this a labor intensive spice to source. It can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 a pound, and it takes 150 flowers to yield one gram of saffron. However, just a little goes a long way, so don’t let that the price scare you away from giving it a try.

How do I buy saffron?

I prefer to buy saffron strands as opposed to ground saffron to ensure I’m getting pure saffron. You can easily ground them by gently toasting them and grinding the strands in a mortar and pestle. The strands should be a dark crimson color and the smell should permeate even the plastic or tin sealed container it usually comes in. Many generally prefer to Persian saffron to Spanish saffron for its intensity and flavor, but it can be hard to find in the United States. If you’re lucky enough as I am to live close to several Iranian markets in Los Angeles, you will be able to find them there. Otherwise, try ordering them online from a trusted source.

How do I store saffron?

Keep saffron in an airtight and preferably dark container. Store it in a dry place and keep it out of sunlight.

What does saffron taste like?

Well, you got me here. Even though this is my favorite spice, the flavor is indescribable/sounds misleadingly unappealing. To me, it has a metallic hay-like quality to it, but really that [lame] description does not do it justice. You’ll have to try it to realize how special this stuff is!

How do I use saffron?

You can use it in so many dishes! Saffron loves to be paired with seafood, tomatoes, rice, cardamom and nuts, pastas, lamb, pears, the possibilities are endless.

(image from here)