4/8/08

Mad About Saffron

In 1966 the mellow yellow Donovan proclaimed that he was mad about it. Khesa, azafran, zafferano… The spice we know as Saffron.

Let’s take a look at this spice that has become more prevalent in the kitchen the last several years. I’ll cram as much crazy info in here as I can – there will be a quiz later…

Saffron originates from the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus, or Crocus sativus, as the plant geeks like to call it. It can take over 200,000 of these hand-picked stigmas to make a single pound of saffron..!

$$$$$$$ (insert sound of cash registers here)

Yes, saffron is big bucks, and that “hand-picked” phrase pretty much explains why. It is quite simply the world’s most expensive spice.
The saffron stigmas are known for their bright orange-red hue and are very delicate, reminiscent of thread. Each stigma is around an inch in length with a flavor often described as an earthy, bitter honey.

Widely used in Mediterranean, Moorish and Asian cuisine, saffron lends a characteristic bright yellow-orange color to food. Rice, risotto and seafood dishes are common pairings.

Saffron is cultivated worldwide with an annual production of around 300 tons and growing. The varieties from Spain tend to be the mildest in flavor and aroma. Italian saffron will usually be more intense, and the Indian, Iranian and Greek varieties will be the most pungent.

Now to the good saffron – what should you look for when trying for high quality? For Spanish saffron, the highest grade is Coupé. The best Italian saffrons are from Aquila or San Gavino Monreale. What is probably the cream of the saffron crop is Kashmiri, but it is extremely hard to a find, and is often times mixed with cheaper, lesser quality varietals.

Now, you too can be just mad about saffron…

Just remember to store it in a cool, dry and dark location!

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