Saffron: Facts About This Expensive Spice

If you are a lover of herbs and spices, you should try saffron. Used for a wide variety of foods because of its beautiful color and intense aroma and flavor, saffron is known as the most expensive spice in the world. Saffron is frequently confused with turmeric, a yellow spice famous in India. However, there are many reasons why saffron is different from turmeric.

Interesting Saffron Facts

The word “saffron” hails from the Arabic word “zafaran,” which translates to “yellow.” The use of saffron goes back a long time. For example, in Imperial Rome, saffron was used to scent public halls and baths. The official color of Buddhist robes in India is also patterned to the color of saffron.

When you buy saffron, you will be given a bunch of small, reddish threads – these are the saffron filaments, which come from the dried stigmas of the Crocus Sativus, or the saffron flower. The threads are handpicked.

It usually takes over 75,000 to 80,000 saffron flowers to produce one pound of this spice – no wonder it’s very expensive!

When buying saffron, make sure you look for one with a deep red color. It must also have a honey-like aroma, and a delicate musky and earthy flavor.

Remember to buy saffron only from a reliable source. As much as possible, get the saffron threads instead of the powder. Some types of saffron powder are usually blended with inferior spices that serve as “extenders,” which do not give value for your money.

In addition, the dried saffron stamens keep their flavor well and can last for over two years. However, make sure you put them in an airtight container in a cool and dark place.

Saffron tastes great with a wide variety of dishes. It blends well with mushrooms, grains, spinach, seafood, eggs, chicken, potatoes, and white wine. In Italy, saffron is commonly used to make the famous Risotto Milanese.    

When adding saffron to risottos and paellas, make sure the spice is infused in hot liquid for 20 minutes before using it. This will remove any trace of bitterness. Don’t worry, though, as the threads will still release their flavors for up to 12 hours.

Can’t Buy Saffron? Try Turmeric!

Many people often hesitate buying saffron, mainly due to its expensive cost. Here’s a good idea: use turmeric in place of saffron. Turmeric, which contains an active ingredient called curcumin, is a yellow spice with a buttery flavor. It is called “poor man’s saffron,” because it is very similar to the expensive spice, but costs less. Turmeric can be bought in powder or capsule form, and is popularly used for making delicious curry.


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