Saffron is one of the most storied spices in the history of cooking and baking. Thousands of years ago, people across many continents and cultures started bringing it into their homes, using it in food and medicine. Aside from elevating recipes, the spice is said to help with depression, pain, and healing. But what is saffron, exactly? Discover where saffron comes from, its many uses, and how to cook with it in your kitchen.
Saffron comes from the crocus sativus flower
More commonly known as the “saffron crocus,” saffron is derived from a flower in Greece. Today, the spice is primarily cultivated in Iran, Greece, India, and Morocco, though you can find saffron produced in the United States. However, most of the saffron found in the states is imported.
Pure saffron has a sweet, subtle, and floral taste that’s earthy and complex. If you come across saffron that’s bitter or metallic in flavor, it’s most likely an imitation, and you’d be better off avoiding it.
Saffron is pricey – here’s why
Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in your pantry. That’s because the crocus flower it’s derived from is incredibly rare.
For reference, it takes an estimated 1,000 flowers to produce just one ounce of saffron. What’s more, these flowers only bloom for a brief period that lasts less than two weeks around the end of October, making the spice even harder to come by.
Moreover, extracting the spice from the plant is a painstaking process. Each saffron crocus only produces three pistils, which are harvested by hand and dried for about 12 hours. This labor-intensive process drives up the cost of saffron significantly, but the punch saffron packs is worth the price tag.
Shopping for saffron: always opt for whole instead of ground
When buying saffron, it’s always best to buy it whole. That’s because it’s much more pungent in flavor than ground saffron. Additionally, you should aim to purchase the brightest, strongest threads of saffron available because the redder the strains, the better they taste.
How to use saffron in your cooking and baking
There are several ways to incorporate saffron into the dishes you prepare at home. Some of the most common saffron-infused recipes are grain-based dishes like pilaf, risotto, and paella. You can also use saffron to amplify soups, stews, and other meals that call for cinnamon, vanilla, or cumin.
Additionally, there are some sweeter recipes in which you can add saffron. Plus, you can use a pinch of the spice in custards and sweet bread to add a unique flavor and make the dish your own.
Aside from cooking, you can use saffron as an alternative to red food coloring or as a dye for fabrics around the home.
Use saffron in your next recipe for its many benefits
Using saffron in your cooking not only tastes good — it comes with a slew of added benefits. Saffron is loaded with powerful antioxidants that can have anti-depressive properties, aid in weight loss, help with heart disease, improve inflammation, and even act as an aphrodisiac. Incorporate saffron into your next dish for these benefits and more.