Saffron (Crocus sativus)
Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice due to the labour required to remove the fragile stigmas (which is true saffron) of the crocus flavours before toasting or drying.
The taste is delicate and fragrant while also warm and earthy. Saffron is best used sparingly as too much can give a medicinal flavour to a meal.
The smell of saffron is distinctive, lasting, musky, striking, floral and honeyed. The aroma can change slightly depending on the saffron’s place of origin.
Saffron is used for both flavouring and colouring in cooking and is commonly used in Indian, Mediterranean and Italian cuisines. Saffron is an essential ingredient in many Spanish paellas or Italian risottos and is used to flavour (and colour) curries, sauces, marinades, puddings and confectionery. In most dishes, saffron is infused in liquid or alternatively ground or stirred in.
Saffron loves asparagus, rice, eggs, cheese, chicken, leeks, seafood, mushrooms and spinach and pairs with anise, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, ginger, nutmeg, paprika and pepper.
Saffron is a member of the iris family and the crocus flowers are grown from bulbs in well-drained soil. The violet coloured crocus flower in Autumn and are picked at dawn before 3 red stigmas are plucked from each flower. The stigmas of about 80,000 crocus flowers are needed to produce just 500g of the spice. The stigmas are then dried or toasted over a very low heat and are deep red to orange-red, wiry and brittle.
Saffron has been highly prized since Greek and Roman times and was traditionally used to dye the robes of Buddhist monks and oriental. Roman emperor, Heliogabalus, is said to have bathed in saffron-scented water. Saffron is native to the Mediterranean and western Asia however is now also grown in southern Europe, China and India.
Saffron has been used in folk medicine to treat colds, whooping cough, colic, gastro-intestinal upsets and high blood pressure. Saffron is used in sedatives, as an anti-spasmodic and for flatulence.
Facts about Saffron
The name saffron is derived from the Arabic word, ‘saffra’ which means ‘yellow’.
Commonly Asked Questions
Can I substitute saffron for another spice?
You can use turmeric in its place however it does not have the flavour or bright colour of saffron.