Saffron is one of those spices that seemed completely elusive to me. A spice I would just never use or try because I had heard how expensive and essentially out of reach it was for the everyday or even special meal. There is so much more to saffron than I realized and once I tried it I was hooked. You will find a recipe here that is a Moroccan stew that uses saffron with a blend of other warming spices.
Saffron is the worlds most expensive spice and it is as prized as gold in many countries and cultures. A pound of Saffron can cost between $2,000 to 10,000 dollars. Saffron grows native to the Mediterranean and Western Asia and it has been used throughout even ancient times. Most of the world’s saffron is grown in Spain and Iran. Spain is the largest producer of saffron today.
Thankfully, a small amount goes a long way in cooking and you can purchase Saffron by the gram.
Harvesting saffron is a significantly difficult and labor intensive process that begins at dawn as the fall blooming flower begins to open.
The saffron roses are collected in the fields of family farms.
Saffron is then produced by picking the tiny little red/orange stigmas from a saffron flower rose by hand.
As you can imagine the labor to remove these tiny stigmas is monumental and since it takes approximately 80,000 rose flowers to yield 5 pounds resulting in 1 pound of saffron it is clear why it is the most expensive spice in the world.
Saffron has been known throughout even ancient times to be a healing spice for many aliments. It was often used to lift the mood which is likely the result of two chemicals found in saffron that can affect mood the same way some antidepressants do. These two chemicals are crocin and safranal. In an very large review of research on the topic it was suggested that saffron supplementation can improve symptoms of depression.
There are many other possible healthful benefits demonstrating what Hippocrates said so long ago, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
- Eye disorders such as glaucoma and age related macular degeneration
- Nervous system disorders
- Premenstrual syndrome and menstrual cramps
- and many others
Culinary uses for saffron are endless and you will find saffron paired with many spices including anise, cardamon, cinnamon, fennel, ginger, nutmeg, paprika (personally I like it with both traditional paprika and smoked), pepper, rose buds, rose water, clove, coriander, cumin and mint.
You will find that saffron is light but adds depth to any dish and I would describe the flavors as penetrating, warm, earthy, honey-like, aromatic, bitter and lingering.
Saffron complements many dishes. It is often added in early stages of a recipe and infused into a liquid. It must be added to a liquid (water or milk) in order for the color to bloom and for it to work properly in a recipe. This approach adds brilliant color and infuses the flavor throughout the dish. Saffron is a great addition to dishes containing: root vegetables, asparagus, chicken, couscous, curries, rice, shellfish, fish, lamb, soups, mushrooms and leeks. I love to pair it in stews with sweet things also like dried cherries.
Saffron due to its high value is often adulterated with other spices so purchases of the spice should be made at only reliable sources. Always smell (if possible) before buying it has a very distinctive, penetrating aroma. Personally, I do not buy saffron ground I always purchase it in its stigma state and I really examine the color. You want your saffron to be deep red with only a few yellow threads if possible and there is really good quality saffron coming from Italy and Greece. When I am working with the saffron stigma I simply add an 1/8th of a tsp, a pinch or no more than 10-15 strands to a recipe. A little goes a long way! Avoid overuse it will be bitter in your recipe if you use too much! I usually spend about $15.00 and I have enough to last for numerous dishes. Saffron threads or stigmas will last for up to 2-3 years if stored in an air tight container in a cool, dark, dry place. Usually, when I purchase the saffron threads they come in a little container like this.
So explore saffrons exotic flavor, don’t shy away from it like I always did. There is nothing like adding some spice to your life through your cooking and of course take advantage of the health benefits too.