Crocus sativus pronounced [SAF-ruhn] is the world's most expensive spice. Saffron are the stigmas from the crocus sativus flower (see image below).
There are only 3 stigmas (referred to as saffron threads) per flower. Saffron is hand harvested so you can understand why it is so prized and so expensive. It takes about 13,125 threads to weigh one ounce.
Article by: Barbara Bowman
Related Videos Where Saffron Came From
Saffron comes from Western Asia
and most likely Persia. The crocus was cultivated in ancient Europe. The Mongols
took saffron from Persia to India. In ancient time saffron was used medicinally
and as well as for food and as a dye.
How To Buy and Store
Unless you use saffron
frequently it is best to purchase in small amounts like .5 or 1 gram at a time.
You can view the chart below to see equivalents and about how much is used in
common recipes. If you use saffron frequently then you may want to invest in a
one ounce tin. (See Where to Buy)
Like most all spices and herbs, "whole" is more powerful than
ground. Whole saffron must be prepared before use, sometimes soaked, sometimes
toasted and ground. If that's too much fuss for you then you may want to
purchase ground. Buy ground saffron in small amounts and use within 3 to 6
months. Purchase saffron from a reliable shop and be particularly careful when
buying powdered saffron as it can be "cut" or diluted with turmeric or other
Saffron must be stored in a cool dark
place. It is customary to wrap saffron in foil and place in a tin or jar with a
tight fitting lid.
Properly stored you can keep
saffron for minimally three years. It won't "go bad" but the flavor will
diminish as it ages.
Equivalents and Yields
One of the reasons we
wrote this article is because we were trying to research equivalents between
powdered saffron and whole threads. In the process we learned:
|1 acre yields ||10lbs|
yield ||1 lb|
|13, 125 threads
= ||1 ounce|
|463 threads ||1 gram|
|1/2 tsp. threads =
|1 pinch = ||20 medium
Amounts used in common
|Dish ||Servings ||Saffron|
|Paella ||6 - 8 ||1/2 tsp
|Bouillabaisse ||6 - 8 ||1/4 tsp
|Risotto Milanese ||4 - 6 ||1/4 tsp
|Saffron Cakes ||18 muffin sized
cakes ||1/4 tsp
The most important rule is "don't
use too much". A very little bit of saffron goes a long way and if
overused becomes overpowering and leaves a "medicinal" flavor.
several ways to prepare saffron for use. Consult your recipe for specific
recommendations. Basic methods include:
Soak Threads - The threads are soaked in liquid which can be broth, water, wine then
the infusion is added to the dish.
Method: crush threads with
your fingers or use a tiny mortar and pestle. Add the saffron to the liquid and
soak for 5 - 20 minutes. Add the "tea" to your recipe.
Toast Threads - Many
traditional paella recipes recommend toasting the saffron before use.
Method: Carefully toast threads in a medium-hot heavy skillet
(cast iron is good) do not allow to burn. Then grind threads into a powder and
use as directed in the recipe.
Crumble and Use -
Sometimes recipes that use a lot of liquid like soups, or salad dressings just
say to crumble the threads and add directly to the dish. Soaking, even for a few
minutes works better, provides better distribution of color and a more robust
Substitutions for Saffron
You may use turmeric
substitute for saffron's coloring properties but not for the flavor.
Safflower flowers can be used to offer some color to foods but no
flavor. Safflower is frequently confused with (and sometimes passed off as)
saffron. Another reason to buy from a reputable source.
Spain is the premier producer of Saffron. The
quality is based on even coloration, percentage of floral waste and percentage
of flower "styles" (waste and styles add weight but no flavor or coloring
|Grade ||Flower Waste ||Styles|
|Coupe ||up to 5% || -|
|Mancha ||up to 5% ||10 - 15%|
|Rio ||up to 10% ||20 - 25%|
|Sierra ||up to 15% ||25 - 30
Coupe - lowest production, very hard
to find. Mancha - The best "available" Stigmas are deep red. Rio and Sierra
have more yellow and lighter color threads and considerably more
If you want to purchase locally purchase from a reputable gourmet store or good
quality grocer. Sometimes grocery stores sell lower quality saffron at very high
saffron 5 gram jar
High quality saffron (stigmas from the crocus sativus flower). Use for tradition...