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The Complete Guide to Saffron: The World’s Most Expensive Spice

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Saffron - The Complete Guide to the World's Most Expensive Spice
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Without a doubt, the world’s most luxurious spice is saffron. This spice is as aesthetically pleasing as it is valuable. If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on some of it, you can elevate just about any dish you make from average to truly unique.

What is Saffron?

Sonoran Spice Saffron Rose in Kashmir Field

Saffron is instantly recognizable for its distinct red-orange color. Unlike other spices that are traditionally ground into a fine powder, saffron is sold in thin strands. These strands are delicate and silky soft to the touch. These are actually the stigmas from the flower Crocus sativus Linnaeus (also known as the saffron crocus, the saffron rose, or autumn crocus). You only get three strands of saffron from each crocus flower. Because of this, it usually takes 50,000 to 75,000 flowers to make one pound of saffron. That’s 400 stigmas to produce just one gram of spice! All of the stigmas are hand-plucked from hand-picked flowers. This explains why the spice is so expensive. After the stigmas have been harvested from the flowers, they are dried and packaged for sale. Sonoran Spice’s Saffron is Kashmiri Kesar (Crocus sativus), it is grown in the Kashmir region in India.

Saffron Flavor Profile

Although saffron has a pungent scent, it’s flavor is a subtle one. Some would describe it as floral, like honey, which explains why many people enjoy pairing saffron with honey. It’s mysteriously sweet and bitter at the same time. There’s really no substitute for this incomparable spice. So, if you’re making a recipe that calls for it, you have to get the real thing. The end result will be worth it!

Be careful if you’re going to harvest your own saffron. The stigmas from the Colchicum autumnale (which, just like the saffron crocus, is also known as the autumn crocus, as well as the meadow saffron) bear a remarkable similarity to saffron. Despite their physical similarities, the stigmas from the Colchicum autumnale are toxic.

Growing Instructions

Saffron fields in Kashmir, India.

Crocus sativus is a Mediterranean plant. The Crocus sativus plants require lots of sun and soil drainage. They should never be watered on a daily basis. Too much water will cause the crocus bulbs to rot. If you have a rock garden, Crocus sativus can grow effectively there. If this isn’t an option, you can add sand to your garden to help with drainage. The crocus plants should be about six inches apart and planted three to five inches deep in the soil. Add some compost to ensure your plants get plenty of nutrients.

Harvesting Saffron - Sonoran Spice
Harvesting our saffron.

The History of Saffron

Saffron crocuses bloom late in the season and should be harvested in the middle of fall. Over time, the bulbs will multiply. So, if you start with a small garden, in a few years, it will expand. The Crocus sativus is a delicate flower. You should harvest them at dawn when the flowers are open wide and the sun is not yet out to damage them. When you harvest saffron later in the day, you end up with brittle saffron strands. Our saffron is always fresh and picked bright and early. You can taste the difference!

Early Uses

The Greeks are believed to be the first people who grew this tantalizing spice, which was first discovered and used during the Bronze Age. The majority of today’s saffron is grown in Iran, but you can find it growing throughout Europe and Asia. Some of the other most common countries include India, Greece, and Morocco. Although you can find saffron being grown in the United States, the strands are not as long or as deep a red as the ones you can get from other countries. We sell saffron from Kasmir India, so you are always getting the longest, best-quality saffron.

People have been loving saffron for centuries. Some of its earliest fans are people we know well from history books. For instance, Cleopatra used to infuse her milk baths with saffron. Minoan women also used saffron to dye their clothing and color their cosmetics.

People take their saffron seriously. During the middle ages, if a person sold saffron that had been contaminated with another substance such as dirt or sawdust, you could be imprisoned or even put to death. Although the consequences are no longer as severe, unfortunately, saffron fraud is still common. Some vendors will combine their saffron with other parts of the crocus flower or marigolds and pass it off as saffron at a bargain price. Be wary of too much uniformity in your saffron strands and yellow streaks across individual strands. Either of these could indicate your saffron (which may not actually be saffron) has been dyed. You can smell the authenticity of saffron. If it has a strong scent that resembles hay, you have the real thing. Rest assured that our Indian Kashmiri Morga Cream Saffron is always pure and free of dyes.

How to Cook with Saffron

Saffron is a beautiful complement to dishes sweet and savory alike. It goes especially well with citrus, cinnamon, garlic, seafood, white wine, lamb, and rose water. Some of our recipe recommendations include:

  • Summer paella
  • Saffron rice
  • Saffron tea
  • Saffron-infused oil
  • Italian fish stew
  • Lemon saffron bread

Due to saffron’s potency and high price tag, most recipes require just a pinch. Not only does the saffron add flavor and scent, but it also can color a dish yellow, orange, or red, depending on the recipe and the vividness of the saffron’s color.

Tips for Cooking with Saffron

saffron rice on dish

Saffron’s flavor really comes alive with time. Because of this, saffron dishes usually taste better leftover than fresh. If you want, you can speed up this process by steeping the saffron strands in hot (but not boiling) water for five to twenty minutes. This is a way of “activating” the saffron’s flavor quickly. Drain the saffron from the water and use it in your recipe as directed. Some recipes will already instruct you to do this, but if they do not, you can still use this method for best results. You can also drink the hot water used to steep your saffron. It’s saffron tea!

Proper Storage

To prolong the life of your saffron, keep it in a cool, dark place in an airtight container. If the container is see-through, cover it with foil or a dishrag to keep as much light as possible out of the spice. Don’t ever refrigerate saffron. You should be able to continue using your saffron for more than two years, as long as you properly care for it. Our saffron comes in a clear jar which is inside of a resealable foil zip pouch. Simply store you Sonoran Spice Saffron in the packaging it comes in to preserve your saffron for up to 3 years.

Health Benefits

Saffron Nutrition Facts per 1 Gram

Saffron isn’t just a pretty spice with a pleasant aroma and unforgettable taste. It also has several important health benefits and it’s rich in antioxidants. The spice can boost your mood and improve your mental health. It’s good for your hair, skin, and even your eyesight. If you have a cold or are experiencing an asthma attack, saffron may be able to help you. It has anti-inflammatory properties and can loosen phlegm in your throat.

Saffron is a natural pain reliever and sleep aid. If you want something to balance out your hormones, give saffron a try! It can have a powerful positive impact on your endocrine system., If you have an upset stomach, eating saffron is an easy, effective fix. Lastly, some studies suggest saffron may be good for your heart health and lowering bad cholesterol. Saffron also has been shown to help with depression and anxiety. In a double-blind study, saffron was shown to be just as effective as Prozac for treating depression.

Once you’ve tried saffron, you’ll be hooked! Many people describe the delicious flavor of this spice as addictive. Become one of the many who enjoys the world’s most luxurious spice!

Interest in Saffron Over Time via Google Trends

Sonoran Spice Saffron

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References

Sonoran Spice Saffron: https://www.sonoranspice.com/products/indian-kashmiri-saffron-1-7-grams

Jammu and Kashmir: Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jammu_and_Kashmir

Colchicum autumnale: Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colchicum_autumnale

Gardening Know How: Information On How To Grow Saffron Crocus Bulbs
https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/herbs/saffron/growing-saffron-crocus.htm

Gardens Alive: Grow Your Own Saffron!
https://www.gardensalive.com/product/grow-your-own-saffron

National Geographic: The Secret History of the World’s Priciest Spice
https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/05/history-origin-of-saffron-spice-iran/

The Atlantic: Saffron: Growing a Coveted Spice
https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/11/saffron-growing-a-coveted-spice/30568/

Natural Food Series: 11 Impressive Health Benefits of Saffron
https://www.naturalfoodseries.com/11-benefits-saffron/

Keywords: saffron, crocus sativus, saffron crocus

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