This spice is worth its weight in gold. It holds the title as the world’s most expensive spice, and not just by a few dollars. Fortunately it’s reasonably affordable because it has a very strong flavor and is used in very small amounts – a pinch for most recipes.
Saffron is made from dried bright red stigmas of the saffron crocus. Each blossom has three thread-like stigmas that have to be removed by hand, and it takes 80,000 of them to make a pound of saffron! It isn’t hard to understand why it is so expensive.
After they are picked, they are carefully toasted to dry them. They are either left in threads or ground into a powder. Some people feel the powder is inferior to the threads, because fillers are sometimes ground into the mix. But if they are of the best quality you get more for your money because the powder has a much stronger flavor and you don’t have to use as much.
The threads need to be soaked in hot liquid for at least 20 minutes before cooking – the longer the better. Don’t use a whisk when stirring them, as they will get caught in the wires and will not blend properly into the food.
If a recipe calls for saffron, it isn’t a good idea to use a substitute. The flavor is so unique that nothing else will taste the same. To preserve that unique taste in a recipe, it’s better not to use other strong flavored spices, such as chili pepper, in the same dish, as it will overpower its taste.
If you want to add it to baked goods, go lightly, as the flavor will be more pronounced the next day.
Saffron will easily absorb other flavors and odors, so be careful where and how you store it. If you don’t use it very often it will keep for several years when it is stored in a dark space, and is sealed so no moisture can get to it.
When buying it, there are some things to look for. The threads should be a bright red, with no other color. Sometimes if it isn’t real saffron it will be tinted to make it look authentic, and splotches of yellow will be visible. Substitutions are sometimes made, but the product doesn’t look like threads. It may color food, but it won’t taste like saffron.
There are many recipes on the Internet that will give you ideas for using this exotic spice.