What is Saffron?

Saffron is a very costly spice, used to flavor and color food. The spice is actually the dried stigma (tiny threadlike strands) of the Crocus Sativus Linneaus, a member of the iris family. A flower's stigma accepts the pollen that is produced by the stamen, which becomes the seeds of the next generation. Each stigma is very small, so about 200,000 dried stigmas, from about 70,000 flowers, are needed to produce just one pound. Since the stigmas are hand-plucked from the individual flowers, saffron's high cost becomes more understandable. It is thought that saffron is the most expensive spice in the world.

Ancient Greeks and Romans scattered Saffron to perfume public baths. The 13th century Crusaders brought Saffron from Asia to Europe, where it was used as a dye and condiment. In Asia, Saffron was a symbol of hospitality. In India, people used Saffron to mark themselves as members of a wealthy caste.

Purchase and Storage:

True saffron is expensive and has a deep orange to brownish red color. The redder the strands, the better the quality. Yellow saffron has no curative properties. Choose whole saffron threads over powder saffron. The threads have a better flavor and the curative qualities are higher.

Using saffron threads, by grinding or crushing them, is more advantageous than using pre-ground saffron. For one, ground saffron loses its potency quickly; secondly, a diluted saffron product can be created by mixing turmeric with it, and, thereby, you are paying top dollar for a cheap product.

When you store saffron, store in an airtight container in a dark, cool place. Don't let it get damp or you will end up losing it all together. Don't add saffron threads directly to foods, the flavor is better distrubuted when the spice is first allowed to soften in a little warm water. Wait until the water takes on a yellow color and then add it to your dish. Plus use it sparingly.

Medicinal Uses:

The therapeutic effects of saffron, crocus sativus, primarily strengthens the heart and nervous system. It aids digestion, by increasing the appetite and can help relieve nosebleeds, fatique and exhaustion. Rubbing your gums with saffrom can reduce soreness and inflammation. Crush a few threads of saffrom into a powder and use your index finger to massage gently into your gums.

Saffron Milk

Bring one cup of milk just to a boil, add a few threads of saffron, reduce the heat and simmer the mixture for two minutes. sweeten it with honey to taste and drink it once a day.

Adding too much can produce a bitter taste and it has been known that a large dosage can make a person feel ill, and more than 1/3 oz. can be fatal.

Culinary Uses:

Saffron originated in the middle east, but appears in many other cuisines, such as Mediterranean and Asian. Its most common function is to colour rice yellow, as in festive Indian pilaus and risotto Milanese, where its delicate flavour make it the most famous of Italian rice dishes. It combines well with fish and seafood, infamous as a key ingredient of Spanish paella as well as French bouillabaisse. In England, saffron is probably best known for its use in Cornish saffron buns where it is paired with dried fruit in a yeast cake.

A very little saffron goes a long way; it is a spice to be added one thread at a time. Just a thread or two can flavor and color an entire pot of rice. The flavor is distinctive and pungent. Most "saffron rice" mixes, commercially available, actually use a substitute which dyes the rice the distinctive yellow, but which does not impart the flavor of true saffron.

Shellfish Paella Risotto

The bold flavors of Spain's famous paella, sausage, seafood and saffron, meet the luscious, creamy texture of Italy's risotto in this beautiful rice dish.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 pound hot Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 1 pound clams, scrubbed
  • 1/2 pound mussels, scrubbed, debearded
  • 4 8-ounce bottle clam juice
  • 1 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 2 cups arborio rice or medium-grain rice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1/2 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
  • 1 10-ounce package frozen peas, thawed
  • 2 large plum tomatoes, seeded, chopped

  • Preparation:

    Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook until almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

    Add sausage meat. Cook until sausage is no longer pink, breaking up with fork, about 5 minutes. Add clams and mussels. Increase heat to medium-high, cover and cook until shells open, about 5 minutes. Transfer clams and mussels to medium bowl, discarding any that do not open. Cover shellfish and keep warm.

    Meanwhile, combine clam juice and saffron threads in small saucepan; bring mixture to simmer. Reduce heat to low; keep warm.

    Add arborio rice to same saucepan that clams and mussels were cooked in and stir 2 minutes over medium heat. Add dry white wine and cook until wine is evaporated, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes. Add warm clam juice mixture and simmer until rice is just tender and liquid is creamy, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes.

    Mix shrimp, peas and chopped tomatoes into risotto and cook until shrimp are just cooked through, stirring frequently, about 3 minutes. Season risotto to taste with salt and pepper. Top risotto with clams and mussels and serve immediately.


    The Epicentre
    Gourmet Sleuth.com