Saffron is a highly prized spice used for seasoning and flavouring, especially in Indian and Middle Eastern food. The delicate stigmas (or threads) are plucked from the saffron crocus and dried before use. Due to this intensive process to harvest just a few stigmas and the fact that it grows in only a few countries around the world, the cost of saffron is very high. So high, in fact, that the question “what spice is more expensive than gold?” has become a staple of nearly everyone who has leaned against a bar with a beer.
Oh, how we all love to exclaim: “saffron!” very loudly as if we have found the secret to the universe. It’s a ritual that’s made all the more fun because it’s not actually true (gold costs more than £32,000 per kg as compared to about £2,500 per kg of saffron)*
Saffron users are also going to need quite a bit of storage space to match its “weight in gold”. With a standard gold bar, as used by the bullion traders and banks, weighing 12.4kg you’re going to need a whopping 24,800 of these 0.5g packs that are sold by Tesco supermarket (at £2.50 each that would set you back £62,000)*.
But you’re certainly not going to need anything like that to spice up your food. Just a couple of strands is enough to add a beautiful flavour and aroma to your pilau rices, biryanis and kormas. The best way to use saffron is to put a couple of strands in a small amount of warm water or milk and press gently with the back of a spoon. This will release all the wonders of the spice, which can then be added to your dish.
The high cost of saffron means it is unlikely to be used in many restaurants. They will instead use the cheaper safflower, turmeric or colouring agents to try to mimic the properties of saffron.
Saffron is also know as zaffron or kesar (Hindi) and the largest producer of it is Iran, followed by Greece (where it was first cultivated), Morocco and Kashmir. Saffron has also been used for medicinal purposes and as a dye for clothes, its stigmas creating a colour which would have conferred status on the wearer due to its high cost.
* At 10 January 2019.
Photos: Pexels and Tesco.