Saffron (Pronounced as “Saff-Ruhn”) is a red coloured spice made from the dried pistils of the Purple Iris (Crocus sativus). This exotic gourmet spice is produced all over the greater Mediterranean and Iran areas. Saffron has that sweet smelling gourmet cooking aroma and a mild but very pleasant taste. It has been cultivated for thousands of years to be used in medicines, perfumes, colour , and as a wonderful flavouring for foods and beverages.
Saffron is used to flavour and tint in many dishes around the world. It is popular in Iran as Iran is mother land of saffron and 80% of the products are from Iran. It is used in Indian cuisine and also in Middle Eastern rice recipes. It is especially popular in European breads, desserts, paella, bouillabaisse and risotto. Saffron is also used as a colour in manufacturing and textile industries.It also has numerous medicinal properties and is by far one of the oldest herbs ever used for medicinal purposes in the history of mankind and up to this date it is being used in some regions of the world such as Afghanistan, India, United Arab Emirates, United States, Spain, Italy…etc.
Since saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, throughout history, dishonest dealers would adulterate saffron by adding similar looking materials or by colouring the yellow strands red, which is not the sign of good quality saffron. Pure saffron contains only the stigma of the Crocus flower with nothing else is added.
Saffron’s potency comes from the red portion of the saffron strands (the Crocus stigma) and not the yellow portions that we find in lower grade saffron. Saffron can be pure, with nothing else added, but not potent. Saffron composed mostly of the yellow portions of the stigma is less potent than the same amount of saffron composed entirely of the red portions of the Crocus stigma.
Some ‘Saffrons’ are made from different flowers other than the purple crocus, or sometimes even made of leaves. These products can vary quite a bit and so, cooking experimentation is the key to determine their culinary value. The common named ‘Saffron’ is simply Kesar .
Saffron should be stored in an airtight container and kept away from bright light and moisture. Bright light such as sunlight will bleach the colour of the saffron. That is why when the Crocus flower blooms , the flower has to be picked at dawn before the sun shines on it.
Saffron can be stored for several years and it will retain its potency if stored properly.
A poor quality saffron is a mixture of orange, red, white and yellow materials. The smell is musty and the texture spongy due to improper colouring when harvesting. Ultimately, one will know when they actually try it, especially in food.
Saffron requires intensive and attentive labour when harvesting and a well over 4,600 Crocus flowers (the purple Saffron Flowers) to make a single ounce. The female crocus stigma (the flower’s red antenna) must be hand picked individually, then it must be properly dried and cured.
Saffron crops also quickly deplete the soil of nutrients and so other Crops (such as Beans or Grains) must be planted and harvested for about seven to ten years in order to replenish the land. This adds to making the product rare and limits production.
Fortunately, only tiny amounts are required in traditional cooking recipes of saffron rice, saffron spiced chicken and saffron based desserts. Also, only a few grams are required to flavour tasty dishes.