Saffron: Worth Its Weight In Gold?

Posted by Wessam Hashem on Thursday, November 08, 2012

While nobody would argue that saffron is the most expensive spice in the market, the debate about the reasons for its high cost still rages on. Some say it is because of its cultivation process and low yield, others say it is because it lends a distinctly delectable flavor to all types of dishes and still others insist it is because of its numerous health benefits. Perhaps it could be a little bit of all three. 

Irrespective of the reason, true saffron lovers do not seem to be one bit deterred by its sky high prices, which speaks volume about how valued it is. 

Using Saffron In Cooking

There are various ways to use saffron when cooking but crushing and soaking it before use is the best way to develop its flavor and its characteristic color. To do this you crush the saffron thread coarsely or grind it into a powder and then soak it in whichever liquid you are cooking in – broth, water, milk. After a while when the liquid becomes infused with an orangey yellow tint and has acquired the flavor of the spice, it is added to the dish.  

 A Look At The Cultivation Of Saffron 

Saffron threads are harvested from dried stigma of the Purple Crocus flower. It takes 1 acre of these flowers to produce a mere 1lb of saffron. The reason why it seems like the yield is so low is because each flower has only 3 stigmas and it takes 14,000 of these to get 1lb of saffron.  This pretty much sums up part of why it is so expensive. 

The biggest producers of saffron are Turkey, Greece, Spain and India. It is commonly sold in two forms- as saffron threads and as saffron powder. Culinary enthusiasts and experts prefer the threads because of the stronger flavor. Saffron lends a distinctly earthy, hay-like flavor to any dish it is added to.

Cuisines That Use Saffron 

This spice is an intrinsic ingredient in several dishes in Spanish, Indian and Arabic cuisine and is also used to flavor sauces and soups in Mediterranean cuisine.  Spanish paella, Indian biryani and Arabic kefta and mrouzia just wouldn’t taste the same without a few strands of saffron. Although it isn’t used much in French cuisine, it is an essential ingredient when preparing French bouillabaisse.

The saving grace for those who are worried about the expense is you only need to use a small amount in any dish. Indulging in spoonfuls of delicious Arabic Chicken Tagine or Mutton Biryani is sure to delight the taste buds and quell all disputes surrounding the price of this spice.  

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