Without a doubt, the world’s most luxurious spice is saffron. In this guide, we will explore where it originates from, why it is so expensive, how it is harvested, how to use saffron, where it can be purchased, plus how to tell when you get duped!
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. It adds vibrant color to any dish and is as versatile as it is delicious. Come along on this journey as we explore the most expensive spice in the world.
What is Saffron?
Instantly recognizable for its distinct red-orange color. Unlike other spices that are traditionally ground into a fine powder, it 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! 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 has such a steep price tag. 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.
Although saffron has a pungent scent, its flavor is a subtle one. Some would describe it as floral, like honey, which explains why many people enjoy pairing it with actual 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. Despite their physical similarities, the stigmas from the Colchicum autumnale are toxic.
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.
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. If you try and harvest later in the day, you’ll end up with brittle strands. Sonoran Spice Saffron is always fresh and picked bright and early, you can taste the difference!
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 it to be 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.
People have been loving this tasty spice 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. The Minoan women also used it 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, they could be imprisoned or even put to death. Although the consequences are no longer as severe, unfortunately, spice fraud is still common. Some vendors will combine their saffron with other parts of the crocus flower or marigolds and pass it off at a bargain price.
Be wary of too much uniformity in the strands and yellow streaks across individual strands. Either of these could indicate your saffron (which may not be) has been dyed. You can smell the authenticity of saffron. If it has a strong scent that resembles hay, you have the real thing.
How to Cook it?
It beautifully complements 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 the potency and high price tag, most recipes require just a pinch. Not only does it 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
Saffron’s flavor really comes alive with time. Because of this, dishes where spice is used 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 not, you can still use this method for the best results. You can also drink the hot water used to steep, it’s saffron tea!
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. If stored correctly you can use it for more than two years. Our saffron comes in a clear jar that is inside of a resealable foil zip pouch. Simply store your Sonoran Spice Saffron in the packaging it comes in to preserve your saffron for up to 3 years.
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.
It’s a natural pain reliever and sleep aid. If you want something to balance out your hormones, give it 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 it 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
Similar Sonoran Spice Guides
Sonoran Spice Saffron: https://www.sonoranspice.com/products/indian-kashmiri-saffron-1-7-grams
Jammu and Kashmir: Wikipedia
Colchicum autumnale: Wikipedia
Gardening Know-How: Information On How To Grow Saffron Crocus Bulbs
Gardens Alive: Grow Your Own Saffron!
The Atlantic: Saffron: Growing a Coveted Spice
Natural Food Series: 11 Impressive Health Benefits of Saffron