Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A Spice Worth More Than Gold?

saffronflower The history of saffron a native of Asia Minor dates back to well over 4000 years ago. It’s popularity spread quickly and it wasn’t long before it was being used around the world not only for the seasoning of food but also as perfume, hair dye, clothes dye and as a medicinal herb. In Ancient times its large variety of uses made it the most sought after spice in the world and has many legends tied to its use. Throughout history it has been and still remains the most expensive spice in the world due to the labor intensive production process.

The saffron crocus, a member of the lily family, is a purple flower that blooms once a year in late September.  It is during this time that each flower is picked by hand to ensure that the yellow/orange stigmas inside are not damaged during the harvesting process. These yellow/orange stigmas sometimes referred to as threads are the saffron. Each flower contains only 3 stigmas with a length approximately  3 to 4 cm long. These threads are also removed by hand after a short drying time. It takes approximately 220,000 of these stigmas to make a pound of saffron making it more expensive than gold by weight.

In order to ensure that saffron does not lose any of it’s moisture or flavor it is sealed in special air tight containers that has also been designed to keep out light. After purchasing saffron the recommended storage requires the threads to be wrapped in foil, placed into an air tight container and kept in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months to ensure it maintains maximum flavor. While it is also available in powder form, the purchaser always runs the risk that it is not pure saffron.


While Saffron is grown around the world today, Iran is the largest producer and Spain is the world’s larger exporter.


saffronstems Saffron has a very potent aroma of honey with grassy or hay like notes. The taste can also be describe as having a hay like flavor with a strong bitter- honey like taste.Not only does it add a pungent and aromatic flavor to food it also adds a beautiful golden color. It is used in Mediterranean cooking but is more often associated with Spanish cooking. Soaking the saffron threads in water before use will bring out the flavor. Before using any of the saffron threads please separate each thread and look closely for any foreign partials that could have been accidently missed in the cleaning process. After you have completed the inspection and are ready to continue make sure to use enough water so that the threads are completely covered and then soaked for a least 2 hours. The threads should not be crushed but left whole during the soaking process. Wooden utensils seem to absorb saffron quickly therefore using wooden utensils is not recommended.  While it is considered very expensive, a little goes a long way as one thread can accommodate several dishes. Here are a few saffron recipes from GroupRecipes. Enjoy!

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