Cooking School – Saffron
Crocus Sativus Linneaus – gardener or not, you might recognize the first part of this plant’s name as one of the first flowers that pokes through the frosty ground in the early spring. But, the crocuses you may find growing in your garden are a different variety than those that produce what’s probably the most expensive spice in the world: saffron.
There’s a very good reason for the high price this spice commands. In fact, an ounce can range from $15 to well over $200 depending on the quality. The saffron threads are actually the dried stigmas of the crocus flower. Each flower contains only three stigmas that must be hand-harvested. What’s more, farmers need to collect stigmas from over 75,000 crocuses to produce just one pound of saffron threads. Here’s the caveat: buyer beware! Read the label carefully. There are many inexpensive substitutes that claim to be the real deal, but they contain little or no actual saffron. These are usually a mix of safflower, marigold flowers and turmeric.
Don’t let the price of real saffron scare you off; a little pinch goes a long way. Because it has such a bright orange-yellow colour and intense flavour, it really should be used sparingly. Saffron has a warm, earthy and slightly bitter taste.
Paella is probably the most famous dish that showcases saffron. But, it’s a spice that can be added to bouillabaisse, vegetables, meat and even fruit. Although not always necessary, saffron is often steeped in warm liquid to encourage it to release the full extent of colour and flavour before being added to a dish.