By Cindy O’Boyle
Saffron is the stigma of the saffron crocus flower and is largely cultivated and harvested by hand. It can take 75,000 saffron blossoms to produce a single pound of saffron spice and is considered to be one of the world’s most expensive spices, due to the amount of labor involved in harvesting.
The bright orange spice has a strong honey-like smell and taste. Although most saffron is now produced in Spain, it is often used in Mediterranean and Asian cuisines. This spice is popular with seafood dishes, risottos and paella to enhance the flavor.
Saffron is available in threads (whole stigmas) and ground. Your best bet is to go with threads. Not only will they retain their flavor longer, but you will be assured you have purchased pure saffron.
Powdered saffron is not as strong, tends to lose flavor, and is also easily mixed with fillers and imitations. Since so little is needed, you will find ground saffron sold in packets of about 1/16 of a teaspoon, and threads equaling about ¼ gram, or ½ teaspoon. These seemingly small amounts will often flavor more than one dish.
If you cannot find saffron on your local markets spice shelves, try asking at the service desk. Saffron is often hidden in the office to thwart would-be thieves.