The Joys of Saffron: Everything you need to know about saffron

This article tells you Everything you need to know about saffron: from cultivation to choosing saffron and even saffron recipes.
Everything you need to know about saffron by

Saffron. This exotic spice evokes images and scents of far and exotic places. Outdoor markets, or bazaars, filled with dates, nuts and tea leaves. It’s deep red threads yields a gorgeous and rich yellow color when soaked in hot water, making it a wonderful natural dye. But, it also carries a distinct aroma that reminds me of sweet family traditions dating back hundreds of years- culinary traditions I hope my children will continue and pass down to their children.

About Saffron:

Did you know that saffron is a spice found from the crocus flower? Specifically, those threads are the three red stigmas inside the flower. It is native to Southwest Asia, but was first cultivated in Greece. Cherished in Iran and the middle-east, saffron is also widely used in Spain, Italy and the rest of Europe. Just like diamonds, saffron’s quality is graded and there’s even a number scale. For the best quality of saffron, choose saffron threads (not powder) that are dark red. Persian saffron have the most intense color and aroma, especially when compared to the more mild Spanish saffron.


Why is saffron so expensive, more expensive than oil or gold?

I’ve seen saffron in gourmet food markets sold in tiny glass bottles for as much as $20 for about 10 threads. The crocus flower requires specific weather conditions for it to flourish. And with the different varieties available, the best quality saffron is found in Kashmir and Iran. The crimson stigmas are hand-picked, collected and dried for distribution. Remember, each flower will produce only 3 threads of saffron.


Ground versus Threads:

When purchasing saffron, you can also purchase crushed or powdered saffron. It is less expensive than the full threads, but the quality is always in question. Ground saffron is typically mixed with turmeric and paprika, so might get the vibrant golden color you desire, but you won’t get the true flavor and intense aroma found only in pure saffron.

Two weeks ago, I found Spanish Saffron sold at Costco. It’s grade set at 230, and you can read Wikipedia’s explanation of the grade system here. I’m truly blown away by the swell of popularity here in the U.S. for this illustrious spice.


The best way to store saffron is in an airtight container and in the dark. I keep mine in my pantry. My mother-in-law likes to crush a bunch of saffron and mix it with a small bottle filled with warm water. Once it cools, she stores the bottle in the freezer. She likes to make it a high concentrate of water & saffron so when she needs it, she takes it out of the freezer and adds a bit of warm water to it. Since you only need a teaspoon at a time when cooking, you pour out what you need and return your bottle to the freezer. This is an easy way to store your saffron when you use large quantities at a time, like we Persians do.


Italians use saffron in risotto. My blogging buddy Wendy at The Weekend Gourmet has a fabulous Risotto alla Milanese you have to check out.

One of my favorite Spanish dishes using saffron is paella. This is the rice dish where anything goes in. The hubby and I prefer seafood paella.

Iranians have a truly special place in their hearts for saffron. We use it in everything. The most common way is to show off our basmati rice:

Persian Basmati Rice by

Oooh! Then there’s Chicken Kabob

Persian Chicken Kabob by

How about some quiche?

Persian Fingerling Potato Quiche with Chives by

And have you tried our desserts?

We put saffron in our rice pudding (Sholeh-Zard)

Persian Saffron Rice Pudding - Sholeh Zard by
We love saffron in our ice cream:

Persian Ice Cream with Saffron and Rosewater by

And it’s heavenly in our cookies:

Persian Saffron Cookies with Raisins by

And dreamy in cake, too!

Persian Saffron Raisin Pound Cake by

I even use it in egg nog!

Saffron and Rosewater Eggnog by

So there you go – basically everything you need to know about saffron.

Click here for more great recipes using saffron!

Sign up for my newsletter and you will receive my FREE saffron ebook!

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67 Responses to The Joys of Saffron: Everything you need to know about saffron

  1. Jennifer at #

    Hi Laura. I always love to support your website! I have referred lots of friends and plan to continue to refer friends to your website. I went to the stumble site for the 1st time and left a msg about your site. Hopefully, you will get some more followers! I have never cooked with saffron but would love to try it some day. I know you have answered questions in the past for me about it.

  2. Jennifer, you rock, as always!!! Thanks for your love and support!

  3. Hi Laura: Love this post! I'm sad to admit I haven't really cooked with saffron before – although I love eating foods with saffron in them. Your photos inspire me, as always. Saffron ice cream…mmmm…

  4. Just stumbled this too! : )

  5. Quenna at #

    Wonderful link, I lookd forward to trying your recipes! Especially the saffron ice cream. My last name is a derivative of the name Saffron – I use it to make delicious rice pudding (throughout every fall/winter) and paella, which I'm long overdue to make. Awesome site!

  6. Maria at #

    I,ve heard that Saffron this year is half the price from last year at least here in Scandinavia, good harvest.
    Like your blog!

  7. What a great and informative post! Lovely giveaway as well 🙂

  8. Lindsey at #

    Wow, I didn't know each flower only makes 3 threads of saffron. No wonder it's so expensive! I have never cooked with saffron and am not even certain what it tastes like. How crazy! I always pick up the little bottle only to have to set it back on the shelf when I see the price. I will have to indulge one day because I would love to make a sweet saffron dessert, like your rice pudding up there (so pretty!). But that chicken kabob picture is making my mouth water right now! 🙂

  9. Love all the beautiful saffron dishes you posted! I'm a fan on FB 🙂 Great giveaway – thanks for entering mine as well:)

  10. This is a cool site where I learn many new things! I've just heard about the virtues of saffron but I've never really cooked with it. I'd like to make a traditional paella with it or a recipe chicken recipe I got from a Persian friend. Take care

  11. I follow on Facebook

  12. Following you on Twitter and tweeted about the contest!

  13. Stumbled you…

  14. Subbed to your e-mail digest…

  15. …and finally? I love saffron…my favorite way to cook with it is to make Risotto Milanese. Or paella…

  16. Hi Laura, I just found your blog and I absolutely love it! Your recipes seem to be delicious and your photos are beautiful, and I already tried your pomegranate peeling technique and it works! So I subscribed to your blog and started following you on FB and TW, but that's not because of the giveaway (even though I would really love to win that saffron 😉 ). And I also added your blog to my Favorite Fodd blogs board on Pinterest :-). See you soon!

  17. Gina at #

    Hi Laura,
    Found you from Nancy, Love the saffron ice cream, being Italian I'm used to it in risotto, but I will have to keep that ice cream in mind. Nice to find you.

  18. I've never cooked with saffron. I've always wanted to. I was not aware of saffron ice cream but am very curious to try it. I enjoy following you on twitter. I book-marked many of your recipes last week. Yum.

  19. I am a huge fan of saffron and my family favourite is saffron pulao, also I love it in milkshakes and of course the colour it gives in gravies is awesome. This giveaway sounds so much fun; do count me in

  20. Yup I like your FB page

  21. I follow u on twitter too and have tweeted about this giveaway !

  22. I have stumbled on this page too- cheers

  23. Your recipes will now warm my inbox- subscribed to tge Family Spice Feed via-e-mail

  24. And finally subscribed to the monthly newsletter too !!! cheers

  25. First, I just wanted to tell you, your photos are breathtaking!!

    I also now like your facebook page 🙂

  26. I also follow you on twitter and tweeted about this contest

  27. I am SO excited about this contest! I love spices (my favorite thing to use in the kitchen! I would totally use saffron in desserts like ice cream or bread pudding because it would bring unusual flavor and depth to the dish. This is making me hungry…

  28. I am a fan on Facebook! 🙂

  29. I subscribed to your newsletter! Yay! 🙂

  30. I already subscribe to your feed! 🙂

  31. I follow you on Twitter and tweeted about your contest! 🙂

  32. And I stumbled it! Whew… maybe I should've put all of this in one comment… 😉 Thanks, Laura!

  33. This is a wonderful post about Saffron and I knew some facts but not this details. I enjoyed being educated about this beautiful spice! You have so many recipes using saffron! Even ice cream!! I'm already your facebook fan!

  34. I am already following you on twitter and just tweeted.!/justonecookbook/status/141954276590223360

  35. I already subscribe your feed.

  36. I used saffron for my Easy Paella (maybe not so traditional style but that's what I've been making), Bouillabaisse and….I think I also used for something else too…sorry but I can't remember for now.

  37. mjskit at #

    I had not idea that saffron could be used so many ways, like in ice cream! Yummy! I already follow you on FB.

  38. mjskit at #

    I tweeted the giveaway!

  39. mjskit at #

    I stumbled you page~!

  40. Pat R at #

    I like Family Spice on FB

  41. Kacie McDonogh at #

    I signed up for the Family Spice newsletter. I've never used saffron before but the foods look delicious! Thanks!

  42. vincent at #


    We bumped into your blog and we really liked it.
    We would like to add it to the

    We would be delighted if you could add your blog to Petitchef so that our users can, as us,
    enjoy your recipes.

    Petitchef is a french based Cooking recipes Portal. Several hundred Blogs are already members
    and benefit from their exposure on

    To add your site to the Petitchef family you can use;=site_ajout_form or just go to and click on "Add your site"

    Best regards,

  43. can't wait to make that ice cream!

  44. Anonymous at #

    I shared on FB. I have used saffron in Indian dishes, back in vegetarian days. (way back). I am looking forward to using the best! p.s. your recipes look fabulous; I'll be checking in to use them. Peggy Lewis

  45. I cook often and had no idea Saffron was more than just a flower. Awesome blog and thanks for the ideas! I will have to keep my eye out for some Saffron and give it a go.

  46. Holly at #

    I have never cooked with saffron, but your recipes look great and would like to try them. I'm a fan on facebook.

  47. I've never cooked with saffron, but a couple of things I'd like to make are your basmati rice and Scandinavian-style saffron buns.

  48. Just came over from Spicie Foodie! I've used saffron a few times in paella and in Dorie's Chicken B'stilla- so pretty! What a nice giveaway, and nice to get to know your blog. 🙂

  49. Hello Laura–I started suscribing to your feed last week and passed it on to a couple of friends. I've always wanted to try cooking with saffron. I never knew it was used for both savory and SWEET recipes!

  50. Deb Harris at #

    Have never used saffron but have always wanted to make paella.

  51. Deb Harris at #

    Follow you on Twitter & Tweeted about giveaway

  52. Deb Harris at #

    I subscribe to website & subscribed to monthly newsletter

  53. Anonymous at #

    Dear Mrs. Bashar

    I am a steady reader of your site and really enjoy your recipes.


  54. Yvonne at #

    I have never cooked with saffron myself, though I've had it in paella and in saffron-pistachio ice cream (so delicate, so good). It's not ice cream season for me now, though, so I'd love to make the tomato, saffron, and roasted garlic soup from the Fields of Greens cookbook. It sounds wonderful.

    Lovely blog, by the way – I found my way to it via the pomegranate vodka!

  55. Jessica at #

    Saffron creme brulee!!! The best.

  56. I have not cooked with Saffron because I have no idea where to purchase it. Bombay Bazzar did not have any when I was there. I look forward to cooking with it.

  57. Anonymous at #

    tiomicaGonzo referred your blog to my daughter who sent it along to me knowing how interested I have become in spices. I did use saffron a few times about 20 years ago in rice. I liked you on Facebook. Mary

  58. Teri Fulleton at #

    Hi Laura,
    I love your recipes and have made your Sholeh-Zard several times. I wanted to leave a comment under the recipe, but there doesn’t seem to be a place to do so. Just wanted to tell you that I’ve made it several times, and I think the sugar can be count down to one cup or less. I know you are concerned about your family eating healthy and just wanted to let you know that it’s equally as good with less sugar! Thanks again for sharing your fabulous recipes and pictures!

  59. Teri Fulleton at #

    *cut down

  60. Jackie D at #

    Just liked you on FB. I just bought some saffron last week when I was in San Diego (love that place). Things are so much cheaper in the U.S. compared to Canada. I wasn’t quite sure what to make with it but just today I happened upon this blog AND I found a recipe for scallop and saffron soup. Can’t wait to try it! 🙂

  61. Jackie D at #

    I just noticed you live in San Diego…wow, what a coincidence. Lucky you! So far it’s my most favourite city I’ve been to in the States.

  62. Nancy at #

    I am thrilled to have stumble across your website while searching for healthy immune boosting smoothies to share with my daughter. I will pass it on. I have to tell you my family for generations on my fathers side have enjoyed a traditional recipe’ of Saffron stuffing. It would not be the same at Thanksgiving and Christmas without it. We are experiencing the next generation learning to make it and carry on the tradition. I don’t know how this recipe’ got started in my Grandmothers family, both grandma and Granddads families are of German decent. I am courious now and will reseach it further. I hope to fnter your next give-away contest. 🙂

    • Laura at #

      That’s wonderful! Welcome and I am definitely going to do another saffron giveaway this December!

  63. adam at #

    Excellent post, my favourite dish is the chicken kebab – over a charcoal fire of course ! One question, would you use Persian saffron in Paella or would you use Spanish saffron since it is a Spanish dish ? I would use a Persian saffron because I am biased but I am interested to know what you think of the difference between the two ?

  64. Lisa at #

    I love saffron in Swedish Lucia Buns!! They are wonderful!

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