Saffron has long been known as the world's most expensive spice, and has often been said to be more expensive by weight than gold. At today's gold prices, this is hardly the case, but saffron still is very expensive. A good part of the reason for saffron's high price is it is so laborious to produce. Saffron is made from the stamins of the crocus sativus flower. Each flower has three thin stigmas, which are dried and become saffron threads. So at three threads a flower, it takes 50,000 to 75,000 flowers to produce 1 pound of saffron. Additionally, it takes 40 hours of labor to harvest 150,000 flowers. So if you do the math, saffron does not seem so expensive after all.
Fortunately, a little saffron goes a long way
Saffron has a unique sweet, hay-like flavor and aroma, and imparts a beautiful golden color to food. Fortunately you only need a few threads of saffron per serving. I once made the mistake of thinking if a little saffron is good, more would be really good, and learned first hand that too much saffron is not a good thing.
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Cooking with saffron
Saffron is used widely in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. When you purchase saffron, buy saffron threads and not the powder, which can be more easily adulterated.
Saffron needs to be soaked in liquid to release its flavor and aroma. Put a few threads in a small bowl and add a splash of water or wine and let it soak 10 - 20 minutes before adding it to your recipe. Some people advocate lightly toasting the saffron and then grinding it with a mortar and pestal. Personally, I think this is too much work and you run the risk of burning your saffron. Burnt saffron is not usable.
Like all spices, saffron is best stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark and moisture-free place. Do not refrigerate or freeze. If stored properly, saffron will last for several years.
Online sources for saffron
Purchasing saffron from the grocery store is usually very expensive. Middle eastern or Spanish markets sell saffron, and saffron can be purchased online.