Saffron is a spice got from the dried stigmas of the Crocus Sativus flower. It is a lilac flower with red stigmas and yellow stamens.
It is a little tricky describing the taste of saffron as everyone experiences it differently. Saffron has several tasting notes, including floral, sweet, musky, honey-like, mushroomy, pungent, and bitter.
However, high-quality saffron has a sweet honey-like floral flavor with a slight bitterness. If saffron tastes too bitter or metallic, it’s degraded, and you should avoid it.
This article discusses everything you need to know about saffron, its benefits, and its origin.
Where does saffron originate from?
Saffron is native to Southwest Asia, but it was first cultivated in Greece.
In successive times, saffron spread throughout Eurasia, reaching parts of North Africa, North America, and Oceania, and later extended to China and India.
Why is saffron so expensive?
The saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) is a triploid flower crop; it produces only three stigmas. It can take up to 80,000 flowers to yield one pound of dried fruit saffron, indicating its complicated production process.
They are also very tiring to harvest as all their stigmas are picked and processed by hand.
The high cost of saffron is also influenced by the large area needed to achieve a small production, and the saffron farm must rest from the end of the harvest season until the beginning of the next. During this period, it is not possible to harvest any other plant.
Considering the intensive work needed to produce one pound of saffron, it is not surprising that saffron is so expensive.
What are the benefits of saffron?
- Saffron is rich in several essential vitamins and minerals like iron, potassium, and magnesium, which help to build strong bones.
- It is effective in treating mild depression.
- Saffron can be used to combat infertility, cholesterol, and hypertension.
- It contains certain anti-inflammatory properties that can help protect you against cancer.
- By seasoning with saffron, you can reduce salt, sugar, and less healthy fats in the kitchen.
- Saffron is also known for its appetite-stimulating and beneficial properties on the digestive system, relieving stress, gas, and general digestive discomfort such as bloating.
- You can use it to provide relief from menstrual cramps.
What are the adverse effects of saffron?
The consumption of saffron as a medicine for depression, post-menstrual syndrome, and prolonged periods can cause dry mouth, headache, anxiety, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, changes in appetite, and allergic reactions.
Also, being a natural remedy for certain illnesses, saffron could modify the effect of some medications for hypertension, anticoagulants, and antidepressants.
Lastly, saffron is contraindicated in people with bipolar disorder, pregnant and lactating women, and women suffering from uterine bleeding.
Which saffron is the best?
The largest producer and exporter of saffron is Iran, followed by Spain, Morocco, India, and Greece.
However, Spanish saffron is the best in terms of quality due to the big size of the strands and has a very floral aroma when roasted.
How to buy the best saffron
The high price and high demand have made saffron one of the most fraudulent and adulterated spices. Prevalent frauds include using stamens from flowers like safflower and calendula to give it a fresh appearance.
Original saffron has a hay and honey aroma and bright crimson-red color. You can rub it between your fingers to confirm its aroma. Additionally, it is best to opt for unground saffron, as it’s not likely to be adulterated.
To ensure you purchase the best quality saffron, we recommend buying saffron only from trusted stores.
After buying saffron, store them in a closed airtight container and keep them away from light. This step is necessary to retain its flavor.
How to use saffron in the kitchen
Saffron is an essential ingredient in many recipes, especially paellas, rice dishes, risottos, meat, chicken, fish, and seafood dishes and desserts. You can use it either ground or in threads.
Below are some of the ways to add saffron to your dish.
Shred the strands
Crush them in a small mortar or on non-stick paper on the board. It will grind easily if it is fresh and has not caught moisture.
Afterward, add it directly to your broth, for example, in marinades, meat and fish stews, vegetable creams, soups, and egg mixture of an omelet.
Crush and dissolve
Add a small amount of warm water to dissolve the ground saffron powder, obtaining a highly aromatic liquid.
You can use this for chocolates, cocktails, desserts, ice creams, or custards.
Blend and infuse
Once the saffron is ground, you can use the powder to infuse hot water as if you were making tea. Try not to boil the water (do not exceed 75C) and let the infusion rest for 15 minutes.
You can add this liquid to the recipe with broth or other liquids, and it is also perfect for rice dishes and paellas.
You can add the strands at the beginning of your cooking to release its full flavor. This is a simple process of preparing rice dishes, curries, soups, and risottos.
Use only small amounts of saffron since its flavor and coloring power are very intense; incorrect use could spoil the dish.
Frequently asked questions
What does saffron do to food?
Saffron is known to add brilliant color and flavor to dishes. They also give your meal a unique aroma.
What is a cheaper substitute for saffron?
You can opt for turmeric, safflower, and annatto in place of saffron. They are easier to find and more affordable.
What should natural saffron smell like?
The best saffron smells like dried grass (hay) and has a slightly chili odor.
Among all the spices, the aroma and flavor of saffron are the most unique; it has a sweet floral taste with a hint of slight bitterness and spiciness.