This is one of the reasons I named my website Yum Yum for Dum Dum, I know nothing about the spice saffron. I recently used a very small amount of saffron threads in my recipe; Perfecto Risotto and the only reason I did that was because of a cooking class. Otherwise, I would never even think to make something with saffron. The information I gather here is from many websites, but basically from Wikipedia. This is for my benefit as well as yours, just incase I run across another recipe using saffron I’ll know what I’m dealing with.
The lovely purple saffron crocus is thought to have originated in Greece. The vivid crimson stigmas and styles of the plant called “threads” are collected and dried to be mainly used as a spice and/or coloring agent in food. 90% of the worlds production of saffron is in Iran. Saffron was brought to America in the 1700’s and is manly cultivated today in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Saffron is one of the most expensive spices. Why? There are only 3 stigmas on each flower, it takes 4600 flowers or 14,000 stigmas to make just one ounce of saffron. This can cost around $143.00 an ounce. Ouch! And all the harvesting and processing is done by hand!
There are many grades and some companies hide other spices in there product to make extra money. A good quality saffron is dry to the touch, has a deep red color and the stigmas are 3/8” to 1/2” in length. You can also buy saffron ground, but far too often it’s cut with turmeric, paprika and/or other spices or barks. Plus saffron power loses its flavor faster than threads. You can test your threads by taking a small sample and dropping them in a small bowl with some warm water. In a minute or two the water should be bright, clean yellow and the threads should retain their shape. If the threads fray and the water is murky, it’s a sign of inferior threads.
The best saffron comes from Kashmir, Iran and Spain. Protect your saffron by keeping it in an air tight container and in a cool, dark place like your pantry or a kitchen cabinet that is away from heat. How much should you use? About 3 strands a person. There are 463 threads (3/8” to 1/2”) per gram, so 1 gram would have approximately 150 servings.
If you want a robust flavor to your dish soak them in warm chicken broth, wine, milk or another liquid you may be using in your recipe, this aides in the release of flavor and the color of the threads. Saffron is widely used in rice dishes, but also pairs well with apples, almonds, honey, chicken, ice cream, seafood, citrus fruits and don’t forget it makes a great tea.