Saffron-flavored rice is integral to the Spanish dish of paella.
Perfumy saffron comes from the stigmas of the small purple crocus (Crocus sativus
) belonging to the iris family. Harvested, dried and packaged entirely by hand,
it's the world's most expensive spice
With each flower providing only
three tiny stigmas, it
takes about 14,000 stigmas to produce one ounce. Fortunately for cooks,
a little saffron goes a long way. The yellow-orange spice has a
slightly bitter, honey
-like taste that's integral to paella
, Risotto Milanese
and many European baked goods.
Saffron comes from the Arab zafaran
meaning "yellow." The spice first appeared in ancient Babylon and China
as early as 2600 BC. Cultivated for thousands of years, it has been used
as anesthetic, aphrodisiac, perfume, dye and flavoring for foods and
beverages. Cleopatra and the pharaohs used saffron for both sacred and
Varieties and Buying Tips
Saffron is sold in powdered form and whole threads (the whole stigmas).
Powdered saffron loses its flavor more quickly and it may also contain "filler" ingredients that make it less impactful.
While pricey, whole threads of red saffron
are the best quality to
buy. In the long run, less expensive saffron won't save you
money—you'll just need to use more to achieve the same results.
Some markets do not put saffron out on the shelf; ask a clerk
if you can't find it.
Stored in an opaque container, tightly sealed and out of direct light, saffron will keep for several years.
• A little pinch goes a long way.
• Store threads in the freezer to make them brittle and easy to crush into recipes.
• To boost color and flavor, mix saffron with one tablespoon of very hot water and let stand for 10 minutes before using.
• Don't use wooden kitchen utensils with saffron—they tend to absorb the color and aroma.
• Blend saffron with thyme
to make a tasty seafood marinade
• Add a pinch of saffron to rice
or mashed potatoes.
• Use in risottos, seafood stews and sweet breads.
Try one of our favorite saffron recipes:
Saffron Rice (ala Negri)
Shahi Korma (Lamb in Saffron and Cardamom Cream Sauce)
beans, breads, chicken, corn, cucumbers, fish, pasta, rice, salmon, seafood, soups, stews, turkey