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What is Saffron Spice?

saffron spice


Saffron is a spice consisting of small orange strands that add a subtle distinguishable flavor and vibrant yellow-orange color to many popular Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Indian dishes.

What does saffron taste like?

Saffron spice is earthy and sweet with a pungent bitter astringent taste and a floral aroma of fruit and caramel. 

Where does saffron come from?

Saffron is harvested from the crocus sativus flower native to Greece. Iran is the largest producer of saffron in the world with other popular varieties including Persian saffron and Kashmiri saffron. 

Why is saffron so expensive?

Saffron spice is hard to produce. The flower the spice comes only blooms for one week each year and produces just three threads of saffron each.

You need 1,000 flowers to produce one ounce of saffron. 

That’s not all, the saffron threads must be picked by hand and you can only pick them in mid-morning while the flowers are still closed to protect the delicate threads inside.

Saffron Uses

A few threads of saffron can transform almost any dish into saffrons distinguishable color, flavor, and scent. 

The spice is used most commonly by lightly infusing its flavor into rice dishes but has both sweet and savory uses. 

Saffron can be used best within dishes in which the spice is diluted such as tagine, cream infusions, soup, tea, pudding, custard, rice dishes, stews, syrups, and condiments.

Saffron Substitutes 

  • Turmeric: when cooked into dishes turmeric provides a similar yellow-orange color.
  • Safflower: will replicate the color of saffron when ground to a powder.
  • Annatto: diluted into water and mixed into dishes annatto will provide a color replacement for saffron, known as ‘poor man’s saffron’.

Saffron Compliments and Pairings 

Saffron compliments flavors and ingredients including rice, orange, potato, pulses, fruits, shellfish, seafood, poultry, cheese, yogurt, pear, lemon, dried fruits, nuts, lamb, cinnamon, garlic, wine, citrus, honey, cardamom, poultry, and milk. 

Saffron Expiration and Storage

  • Threads: store in an air-tight container away from direct sunlight for 2-3 years.
  • Ground: store in an air-tight container away from direct sunlight for up to six months. The flavor will be less intense and gradually grow weaker with time.

Fun Facts About Saffron

  • Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice often known as ‘vegetable gold’ or ‘red gold’. 
  • Saffron is cultivated and harvested by hand which is part of the reason for its high price point.
  • It takes 1,000 flowers to make one ounce of saffron spice. 

Popular Saffron Recipes

  • Saffron rice
  • Bouillabaisse
  • Seafood paella
  • Saffron pasta
  • Saffron aioli
  • Risotto Alla Milanese
  • Saffron syrup
  • Persian saffron pudding

Chef Max

Michelin trained professional chef with a passion for recipe writing and all things food. I have worked for over five years at top restaurants across the UK and have gained an ability to create any recipe you desire, from comfort food recipes to fine dining recipes. My experience in food writing includes a placement at Delicious Magazine which involved feature writing, recipe testing, article research, and content creation.

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