As the most expensive spice in the world, you may wonder if saffron is worth it, and you might wonder what it tastes like. Given its price tag, up to $2700 per pound, you may assume it’s sweet ambrosia. In fact, saffron is somewhat bitter, but its flavor is also complex.  Some say honey-like.  Some say bitter.  I say earthy, a little like fresh hay, and a little goes a long ways.

The word saffron derives from the Arab word zafaran, meaning yellow, and it was mentioned as far back as 1500 b.c. in many classical writings, as well as in the Bible.  It has been used by the Assyrians in 7th century BC, by the Persians in 10th century BC, by the Chinese in offerings to Buddha in 3rd century AD, by the Moors in France in 8th century AD, and in the Americas in the 1700’s.  It has been prized as an aphrodisiac.  It has been used for medicinal purposes.  It has been used to add color to cloth.  But I prefer to use it in cooking.

Saffron threads can release aroma, flavor and color for 24 hours or more, depending on their quality.  Many people try to cultivate saffron and may use pesticides and chemicals to try to protect this expensive spice from pests. Chemicals can ruin the value of saffron. Organic saffron is stronger in taste and sometimes even cheaper than chemically sprayed saffron.  It is definitely to your advantage to purchase only organic saffron.  Our DIY dinner kits at Passport Dinners contain only organic saffron of the highest quality.

Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of the saffron crocus.  The saffron crocus blooms with its delicate violet flower each Autumn in various countries such as Iran, Greece, and Spain.

Crocus sativus in Conservatoire National des P...Each saffron crocus grows from 8 to 12 inches tall and, in a good year, bears several flowers, each with three bright crimson stigmas, the female part of the saffron crocus.  The stigmas are the only part of the saffron crocus that when dried (cured) properly become commercial saffron.  The male part of the saffron flower, the stamens, are half the size of the stigmas, are deep yellow, and have NO culinary value.  Beware of saffron that has added weight from these yellow stamens.  Look for the vivid crimson saffron only.

And that price tag?  It is estimated that it takes some 14,000 stigmas to produce only one ounce of saffron threads.  When the saffron crocus blooms, usually for a 3 week time period, the  harvesting and processing begins.  Open flowers are picked and then carefully dissected to extract the stigmas.  They are dried over heat and then packaged for sale.  This labor-intensive process generates the cost of these crimson threads.  

The saffron crocus provides the deep yellow color and pungent flavor that is critical for the success of some of the world’s most traditional dishes:  bouillabaisse from France, lamb curries from India, paella from Spain (as in Passport Dinners DIY Valencian paella kit), risotto milanese from Italy, or preserved lemon chicken from Morocco (as in Passport Dinners DIY Fez Preserved Lemon Chicken kit).

If you haven’t tried it before, pick up a container of organic-only saffron threads, and travel the world through food with the most expensive spice in the world.  Or try one of our DIY dinner kits that already have that crimson spice included.

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