Saffron Is an Ancient Luxury


Fresh Saffron in a Jar

Saffron is an ancient luxury.  Taken from a species of crocus flower, three red stigmas taken by hand from the center of each flower comprises the entirety of this spice.  This makes it a rare and expensive luxury, more expensive per pound than even truffles.  This spice is highly desirable, present in most of the cuisines of the western world since antiquity.  In fact, trade in saffron was recorded in 7th century B.C. in Assyria. 

Saffron is used in a wide variety of cuisines, from Spanish yellow rice, to saffron rolls, bouillabaisse   in French cuisine, to biryani in Indian cuisine.  Its honeyed hay fragrance and flavor adds wonderful complexity, and the color that saffron imbues to cuisine is a feast for the eyes.  While hay may not sound like an appealing flavor, the perfume that saffron adds is something delicate and difficult to describe exactly.  But it dominated as a flavor for sweet and savory foods alike until vanilla was brought from the New World.  It continues to be widely used and often rivals gold in cost weight by weight.

Saffron is very easy to use, and just requires a few threads to season a dish.  In fact, it is more important to know how to buy it than to use it.  Iranian is best, followed by Spanish grown saffron.  Both countries grade their saffron, and the price reflects the quality.  Saffron that is purchased ground is often cut with cheaper ingredients like turmeric.  It is much better to grind it oneself.  It can be ground with a little sugar or salt in a mortar and pestle, or it can be soaked in warm water for a few minutes to bloom it.  Saffron soaked in this way for about 10 minutes should color the water bright yellow, and it should offer a lovely fragrance.

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