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.
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 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:
Oooh! Then there’s Chicken Kabob…
How about some quiche?
And have you tried our desserts?
We put saffron in our rice pudding (Sholeh-Zard):
We love saffron in our ice cream:
And it’s heavenly in our cookies:
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And now, comes my holiday gift to you, your chance to enjoy this truly magical spice. I have an approximately 3-gram bag of Persian saffron to give away to one lucky winner! This is not a sponsored post. This is saffron that my family brought me from Iran. It’s my way of saying thank you to everyone who has visited my blog and my website since I started this adventure almost three years ago. You have several ways to enter this contest: 1. Become a fanof Family Spice on Facebook and comment below that you did this.
2. If you recruit a friend to become a Facebook fan, you BOTH get an entry in this contest. Just be sure to leave a comment below to let me know.
3. Follow me on Twitter and tweet the following message, and leave a comment below that you did this: Saffron Giveaway from @FamilySpice! #giveaway http://www.familyspiceblog.com/2011/11/joys-of-saffron-and-holiday-giveaway.html
4. Stumble this page, by clicking this button (and of course, leave a comment about it!)
5. Subscribe to the Family Spice Feed and comment that you did it
6. Subscribe to the monthly Family Spice Newsletter and comment that you did it.
7. And, finally the old-fashioned way by leaving a comment below, BUT you have to tell me if you have ever cooked with saffron and what you made with it. If you haven’t used saffron before, tell me what you would like to cook with saffron.
This contest is now closed. Thank you everyone for entering. What a great turn out! The winner is Gonzo and I can’t wait to hear what he whips up with his saffron. Don’t be discouraged. I will host another saffron giveaway in March, to celebrate the Persian New Year and the first day of Spring.
And if you didn’t win, I hope this doesn’t discourage you from trying saffron and the terrific recipes I have featured in this post.