What is Saffron?

So what exactly makes saffron the world’s most expensive spice? It’s not necessarily its flavor or any health benefits associated with the reddish-yellow spice, although it does lend a distinct, wonderful flavor to all manner of dishes. Rather, its the cultivation process.

It has been estimated that approximately one acre of purple crocuses, the flower from which saffron threads are harvested, will yield only one pound of saffron. This is because each crocus flower only produces 3 threads of saffron. About 14,000 threads (actually the dried stigmas of the crocus flower) equals one ounce of saffron, so that should give you an idea of the labor intensive process that goes into harvesting saffron threads. Saffron is harvested in Spain, Greece, India, Turkey, and a few other countries. It can be sold as saffron threads, or as a ground saffron powder, but culinary experts prefer the threads, as the flavor is typically stronger.

The question is, is it worth it? Saffron does have a number of versatile uses aside from flavoring foods. It is used as an aromatic in baths, utilized in perfumes, and can also be used as a dye. And because its flavor and aromas are powerfully intense, it can be used very sparingly. Saffron is often added to many food products simply as a coloring, such as cheese, soups, rice, and even various alcohols.

Saffron flavored dishes often grace the menus of exquisite restaurants, and many chefs claim that Greek saffron is by far the most superior, though Spain produces the most saffron. Saffron figures quite prominently in Mediterranean cuisine, and is also often used to flavor soups and sauces. Aside from its food applications and other uses, saffron has also been used medicinally for hundreds of years.

Today, saffron is said to aid in digestion and to be helpful for stomach pains and other related ailments. It is also sometimes used to help ease or cure other illnesses, such as fever or flu symptoms, and is used in small quantities to help regulate menstruation in women. Studies are still being conducted as to its full potential of health benefits. Some studies have shown that saffron also contains antioxidants and other healthful properties that can serve to help prevent cancer.

To use saffron yourself, you can follow the instructions in a recipe, or you can prepare saffron threads by various methods. Saffron threads can be soaked in water, as well as a broth or other liquid, which will become infused with the flavor and orange-yellow coloring, and can then be added to a dish. Typically, the saffron threads are crushed or ground before soaking them.

Saffron threads can also be toasted, and are then ground or crushed into a powder and added to a dish.

Because saffron is so expensive, turmeric is often used as a cheap substitute, though basically for color only, for while both saffron and turmeric produce a rich, golden-yellow color in foods, the taste of saffron is far superior. To read more about turmeric, you can visit this article: Introduction to Turmeric