Ingredient Focus: Saffron


Saffron is the dried orange-red stigmas of the saffron crocus (crocus sativas) flower. It imparts a rich golden-yellow hue to dishes and has a distinctive hay-like fragrance. Only a few strands are needed to flavor and color a dish.

Saffron truly is worth its weight in gold. Considered to be the most expensive spice in the world, it retails between $2,000 to $5,000 per pound. A pound of stigmas must be gleaned from approximately 75,000 crocus flowers because each flower only has 3 stigmas. Each stigma has to be hand picked and this one pound harvest will take about a week of labor.

Sources: Wikipedia and LuxeEpicure.

Saffron Crocus

Picture Courtesy of Sarah Phipps

Fortunately, a little goes a long way and enough can be purchased for a few dishes in under $10. When buying saffron, look for long brightly colored strands. The powdered form is not worth the trouble as it is often adulterated with fillers.

Strands of saffron are usually steeped in a little warm water before being added to the dish. The longer the steeping time, the stronger the color and flavor. I steeped 3 strands in 1 tablespoon of warm water for 10 minutes. Look at the color intensity of the liquid. It was fragrant too!


So, what can I do with 3 strands of saffron? Well, I decided to make a drink with it since I needed a cup of tea anyway. I steeped a sachet of chamomile in 1 cup (240ml) of 195°F (90°C) water for 5 minutes together with the saffron and its liquid. I did the same in another teapot with just the chamomile. Here is what the infusions looked like. The one on the left is with the saffron. It has a nice deep golden-yellow color but I could barely detect the fragrance of the saffron. Not bad at all for just 3 tiny strands!


Since the light source is coming from the window on the right, I decided to swap the teacups and teapots. Using the same camera settings I took another shot of the infusions. The one with the saffron still showed a more golden-yellow color.


A little does go a long way. Usually recipes will call for a pinch which is anywhere between a quarter and a half teaspoon of saffron. In the end, the cost may just be like any other spice in your pantry. Do give it a try. Here are a few recipes that may interest you. Please click on the link or image to open in a new window.

Saffron Pistachio Pilaf

Saffron Pistachio Pilaf

Jeweled Rice Pilaf

Jeweled Rice Pilaf

Spanish Style Chicken Stew

Spanish Style Chicken Stew

Enjoy…..and have a wonderful day! 8-)


8 Responses

  1. lee says:

    Is turmeric the same thing? Is the powdered form called turmeric?

    Thanks for the info.!

    • Biren says:

      No, turmeric is a different spice altogether although many use it as a substitute for saffron as turmeric costs much, much less. They do share almost the same color but the fragrance is totally different. Powdered saffron often has turmeric in it as a filler.

  2. Ramona says:

    I don’t work with saffron very often… but I want to now. :)

  3. Tessa Matthey says:

    I bought two cellophane packages of “saffron” in Mexico … much cheaper than the saffron I see in our Seattle grocery stores BUT, while it colors the paella adequately, it doesn’t impart the same fragrance as the saffron that was gifted to me from “adoptive family” in Azerbaijan. Now that I am running out of saffron from Azerbaijan (and donating my second cell packet of Mexican saffron to a local food panty since I expect some of the clientele may well be Mexican and possibly homesick for their spices), what sources of saffron should I be paying good money for? (I imagine Spanish saffron is well regarded but are there other primo source countries, too? Turkey or Iran or ???)

    • Biren says:

      The saffron shown here is Spanish. 90% of the world’s saffron comes from Iran. Other producers include Greece, Kashmir, Morocco, and Spain.

  4. Tessa Matthey says:

    I just wrote a question/comment about saffron (Mexican; Azeri) without specifying that I was talking about saffron threads.

  5. Michele Olson says:

    Happy Santa Lucia Day! As you can surmise from my name, my husband is half-Swedish, and he and our young daughter shared in the custom of waking the household with rolls. Sounds sweet, until you factor in three sleeping brothers, and a sister with a good throwing arm. Still, it’s a treasured memory. Traditionally, the rolls are Lussekatter, Santa Lucia buns, made with raisins and saffron. I wasn’t much of a baker, and we tended to go with rolls or croissants from the grocery. Now that daughter is grown and a college graduate, and baking us the real deal with the saffron we surprised her with this morning. Now, I wonder if we can talk her into the crown of lit candles …

    • Biren says:

      Thank you, Michele. I am the one who should be wishing you Happy Santa Lucia Day. :) I am sure those saffron buns were tasty. I have always wanted to bake with saffron but have yet to do so. I will get to it some day. Perhaps your daughter may agree to the battery powered one instead. ;)

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