I’m not going to talk about the culinary uses for saffron, but rather about how it is obtained and sold.
Saffron comes from a flower, but there are no more flowers in the saffron that you buy. The stigmas of the flower are the part that’s used, and they have to be gathered by hand, one by one. It takes about 75,000 hand-picked flowers to make a single pound of saffron.
The threads are sorted by quality. The best is called thread saffron. These threads can be up to 8 feet long and have been counted as high as 16 threads per inch in width. The next grade is called cut or bouquet saffron; this is a shorter strand that has been broken into pieces; the smaller pieces have more flavor than the long strands of thread saffron. A slightly less pure grade is called powdered or common saffron; this has had its impurities removed by passing it through a silk cloth or paper filter to create a powdered consistency.
Thread Saffron: $75-$400/lb
Cut Saffron: $4-$18/oz
Powdered/Common Saffron: $1-$
So, how to tell the difference?
Principal importers of saffron are Greece, Italy, India, Iran and Morocco. While it is possible to buy Iranian saffron online in the U.S. (usually labeled as Spanish or Greek), it’s a risky proposition. It’s illegal for American companies to import Iranian products due to sanctions against the country, and this includes foodstuffs. If you’re buying from a third party, it may be difficult to ascertain its origin. And if you’re purchasing from other sources than those listed above, it’s possible the product is either fake or has been adulterated with fillers such as sesame seeds or turmeric.
In terms of markup and sale price: “Saffron is sold in different grades,” says Reza Ghazinour , owner of Brooklyn’s Saffron Spice . “The more yellow the [color], the more bitter the taste.” He also points out that there are many ways to adulterate saffron — including mixing it with other spices — so your best bet is to buy directly from a reputable retailer knowledgeable about the product who can advise you on where your purchase originated and what ingredients went into it.
“It is said that one gram of pure
Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice by weight. Its taste is so unique and strong that a little goes a long way toward flavoring food. It also takes over 100,000 crocuses to make just a pound of saffron. That’s why it’s so expensive, but even more so because it takes such an insane amount of work to cultivate.
Each crocus flower has four stigmas — each stigma needs to be picked by hand and then dried to be used as saffron. That makes the spice incredibly labor intensive to produce, but if you want to eat saffron-flavored foods (or use it in other ways), you have no choice but to buy the spice at some point.
The plant is native to Iran and Afghanistan, where it’s grown for commercial use. It’s also grown in Kashmir and other parts of India, Spain and Greece, as well as Italy — but only for local use. As such, anything labeled “Saffron” is probably not really saffron at all.
Even though saffron can be used for over 40 dishes, from rice pudding to a signature paella dish , each region has its own traditional food with which they flavor the spice. That means that
Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, has for 5,000 years been grown in a small area of Greece—Crete and nearby islands. It is labor-intensive to produce; each plant must be picked by hand. There are other places saffron is grown–Iran and India, for instance–but it isn’t as good as Greek saffron.
I have never seen a place more beautiful than Crete. And I have never eaten a more delicious meal than one I ate there that included saffron: red mullet baked with tomatoes and potatoes, seasoned with the threads of dried saffron.
If you are using saffron to flavor a dish, it is enough to add just a pinch of threads–about 20 at a time–to your recipe. If you are using saffron for its color as well as its flavor, about two threads per tablespoon should do it. But if you are dyeing fabric or something else where you want the color to be very intense, use more; it is nearly impossible to use “too much” saffron in this context.
This dish was so good that I could honestly say that if I had never seen or heard of saffron before that meal,
Saffron is a spice that has been used for centuries, and is still used today. It is native to the Middle East and has a sweet, hay-like flavor.
Saffron is extremely expensive, about $4,000 per pound. It takes anywhere from 70,000 to 200,000 flowers to make one pound of saffron. Saffron comes from a flower in the crocus family. Crocuses are difficult to grow, and must be hand-picked when they are in bloom. The flowers are then dried and sold whole or ground into powder form.
Taste-wise, saffron is just as strong as it is expensive. It’s not too bitter or overwhelming; but it has a definite presence on the palate that makes it stand out among other ingredients. Saffron isn’t just popular with chefs; it’s also often used in perfumes and other cosmetics as well as medicines such as cough syrups
Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, is derived from a dried flower. It takes about 70,000 flowers to make one pound of saffron. Saffron threads are crimson in color and have a strong flavor that is sometimes described as medicinal or bitter (sterile water is often used to “wash” the flavor away).
Some might be surprised to learn that saffron is native to Greece and not India, where it’s frequently grown and harvested. The crocus sativus plant is a perennial bulb with dark purple flowers and long, pointed green leaves. It’s believed to have originated in Crete, which is why it’s also known as Cretan saffron.
The cultivation of saffron isn’t easy, but the plant itself can grow almost anywhere. A single plant can produce up to four flowers per season, each capable of yielding three stigmas (the female reproductive parts) for harvesting. The flowers bloom in autumn and are picked during February, when blossom time has completed its full cycle and just before opening their buds for the next season. In springtime, the plants bloom again if left unharvested—but not if they’re deadheaded after blooming.