You probably already know that saffron is an extremely exquisite spice. It is used in cooking, and adding even a small amount of this red spice can add a powerful punch of flavor to your dish.
But what is saffron exactly, and why is it so expensive? Is it really worth the cost? Let’s find out!
What is Saffron?
If you are wondering, “what is saffron?” you are not alone. This exotic Mediterranean spice can baffle anyone!
Saffron is extracted from a flower called crocus sativus, more commonly known as “saffron crocus.” Each flower has three red or orange stigmas, protruding right from the center of the beautiful purple flowers. The saffron that we buy at the superstore comes from these stigmas.
These tiny stigmas are handpicked and dried to extract saffron. It takes stigmas from around 50 to 60 flowers to produce a single tablespoon of saffron.
It can take up to 75,000 saffron flowers to produce one pound of saffron. The plant is generally planted and harvested painstakingly by hand. The amount of labor that goes into extracting saffron reflects in its high price.
Saffron goes around by many names, including Zafran, Safran Espagnol, Saffron Crocus, Kumkuma, Kesar, Kashmira, Safran Veritable, and more! It is believed that the spice originated from Greece.
Today, it is available all around the world. It is primarily grown in Greece, Morocco, Iran, and India.
What Does Saffron Taste Like?
Saffron has a rather complex taste profile. It has a slight but highly distinctive sweet taste. It can also be described as earthy. Some people would describe it as floral and honey-like, while others may find it pungent and musky.
The flavor profile is somewhat similar to that of vanilla. It is tricky to explain the exact taste of saffron. However, it is highly recognizable when used in cooking. If a dish contains saffron, you’ll know it with the very first bite.
On the other hand, if your saffron tastes bitter or has a metallic aftertaste in the mouth, it is probably not authentic saffron.
Owing to the very high price of this exotic spice, it is common to find cheap imitators in the market. If you are going for the taste, it is best to avoid them and buy pure and original saffron.
It is also a good idea to avoid powdered saffron as it is almost always mixed with fillers, such as turmeric and paprika.
How is Saffron Used in Cooking?
Saffron is a delicacy in the culinary world. It is used in various dishes. Let’s take a look at how you can use saffron to prepare your favorite dishes.
1. Crush and Soak Saffron
Use mortar and pestle to crush saffron threads into a powder. Saffron is really delicate, so you can also crumble the threads between your fingers.
Steep your powdered saffron in milk or white wine for around 20 to 30 minutes. Add the liquid to your recipe to infuse the maximum flavor into your dish.
2. Toast the Threads
Another option is to toast the threads. Simply place the threads you want to use on a hot skillet and cook them slightly. However, make sure you don’t burn the threads.
Once heated, the threads will release a strong aroma. Remove the threads from the heat and crush. You can soak the powder or add it directly to your dish.
3. Crumble and Add
When running short on time, simply crumble saffron threads between your fingers and add to the recipe!
Non-Culinary Uses of Saffron
The use of saffron is not limited to the kitchen. It is used extensively in the cosmetic industry, especially as a fragrance in perfumes.
It possesses anesthetic properties, which is why it is also used to treat various illnesses, like common cough, whooping cough, heartburn, and various sleep problems.
Many people employ it to relieve pain. That’s not it – this wonder spice is also known to combat depression and anxiety!
Tips on Cooking with Saffron
We have discussed two major questions about saffron – what is saffron and how it is used? Now let’s take a look at some helpful tips on cooking with saffron.
- Always use saffron in a small amount. Using too much of it in a recipe can result in a bitter taste.
- Keep in mind that 1/4 teaspoon of powdered saffron is equal to around 1/2 teaspoon of threads.
- Add saffron in desserts to add a distinctive taste. For making cookies and pastry, add 15 to 20 threads of saffron for every 200 grams of flour.
- For making four servings of risotto, add 30 threads.
- For making four servings of a paella recipe, add 50 threads of saffron.
- Store saffron in an airtight jar. Keep it in a cool dark place.
The Bottom Line
So, now that you know the answers to the two basic questions, ”what is saffron and how can you use it?” it’s time you get a taste of this exotic spice.
Add it to your favorite dishes and enjoy the exquisite taste!