Hela Spice North America uses cookies to personalize your experience. By continuing to visit this website you agree to our use of cookies.

Learn More

Spice Spotlight: Everything You Need to Know about Saffron

26 March 2024

There is no spice more prized (or more expensive) than saffron. For thousands of years, it has been cultivated, traded, and used for culinary, medical, and aesthetic applications. Long a symbol of wealth and royalty, saffron is now finding its way into consumers’ kitchens, restaurant menus, and best-selling food products.

Saffron is a relatively versatile spice since it can be sold as whole threads, a ground singular spice, a spice blend, or incorporated into various products. It’s a perfect natural food dye, colouring products with a beautifully enticing golden hue. Furthermore, it can be used in both sweet and savoury recipes.

Ultimately, saffron is a powerful spice, one that can transform dishes and capture the taste buds of consumers.

What is saffron?

Saffron has long been one of the most coveted spices and, consequently, is the world’s most expensive spice. The name “saffron” derives from the Arabic word for yellow, “za’faran.”

Part of its allure is its beautiful golden hue, as well as its delicate floral aroma. Although a prize culinary ingredient, saffron is also used for dyes, perfumes, and medicines.

This extraordinary spice is derived from the stigmas of the saffron crocus plant (crocus sativus), which is a flowering member of the iris family. Each flower has bright purple petals and contains just three crimson-red stigmas.

These stigmas, commonly known as threads, are hand-picked and carefully dried to preserve their flavour and aroma. The end result is the desirable spice that we are all familiar with.

The saffron plant grows best in dry, semi-arid climates. Most saffron is now produced in Iran; however, Afghanistan, Greece, Morocco, and India are also significant cultivators of saffron.

What does saffron taste like?

Saffron has a subtle earthy, sweet flavour profile. Although your tongue will initially feel a tinge of bitterness, this quickly fades to delicate notes of flowers, fruit, and honey.

It straddles sweet and savoury with a flavour that is distinct, unmistakeable, and almost beyond description.

The History of Saffron

The history of saffron is long. It’s one of the oldest spices on the planet and has been considered a valuable commodity for thousands of years.

You can find references to saffron in ancient texts, such as the Bible and ancient Chinese medical books, dating as far back as 1500 BC. However, saffron is much older than that. It’s believed to have been originally cultivated in Greece or Iran over four millennia ago.

In ancient Greece, saffron was used for its aroma and colour. The Greeks created yellow dye from saffron and used it to dye their hair. There are even frescoes depicting the saffron harvest from 1600-1500 BC.

Ancient Persia cultivated saffron as early as the 10th century BC. Saffron threads were woven into ancient royal Persian carpets, symbolizing wealth and elegance. The ruling class also used it to flavour their food, dye clothing, and perfume ballrooms.

Saffron was heavily traded throughout Eurasia. It made its way from Persia to eastern India around 500 BC, where saffron dyes were used to colour the robes of Buddhist priests. By the 10th century, saffron had been introduced to Spain by the Moors, who also brought it to parts of France and Italy.

The Cost of Saffron

Saffron is known for being more expensive than gold. This is because it’s an extremely labour-intensive crop to harvest. Each saffron flower only produces three delicate stigmas, which must be harvested by hand very carefully. It takes roughly 75,000 blossoms to produce one pound of saffron.

Saffron flowers have an incredibly short harvest window, only blooming for three weeks out of the year. And since the stigmas can be damaged by the sun, they must be harvested in the early morning.

Lastly, saffron is temperamental and difficult to grow. It requires specific soil, climate, and moisture levels. Consequently, 90% of saffron is grown exclusively in Iran, where the conditions are ideal.

How to Use Saffron

Since saffron exhibits both sweet and savoury qualities, it can be used in both savoury dishes and desserts. It lends a fragrant, nuanced sweetness to recipes, as well as bestowing its signature vibrant hue.

Fortunately, a little saffron goes a long way. Starting with a small amount of saffron, you can then draw out the spice’s aromatics and rich golden hue with a little heat and hydration.

First, grind the saffron threads into a powder. Once the saffron is ground, dissolve it in hot water or in the cooking liquid. The flavour, aroma, and colour will spread throughout the dish.

Just be careful, though, as the saffron flavour increases, the longer it’s steeped. Overusing saffron can make the food bitter and taste like chlorine.

Saffron is most commonly found in Persian, Indian, African, and Mediterranean cuisines. However, its wonderful flavour profile and beautiful colour make it a fantastic addition to a wide range of recipes.

Wondering if you can incorporate saffron into your product line? Ask the food experts at Hela Spice.

Other Spices and Herbs to Pair With Saffron

Although lovely on its own, saffron also pairs well with an assortment of other spices. Consequently, it can be sold as a singular spice or as a custom spice blend.

  • Basil
  • Cinnamon
  • Cumin
  • Cilantro
  • Nutmeg
  • Paprika
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Turmeric
  • Vanilla

That being said, saffron can be hidden in a heavily spiced dish. Its flavour is, ultimately, more on the mild side. Therefore, it requires a delicate and expert hand when combined with other spices.

Saffron for Health

Saffron has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Nowadays, we know that saffron is a powerful antioxidant (some of these antioxidants are responsible for saffron’s colour and taste).

It’s also believed to help fight cancer, treat depression, reduce PMS symptoms, and reduce heart disease risk factors.

Custom Spice Blending With Hela Spice

At Hela Spice, we provide custom spice blending using high-quality ingredients and cutting-edge technology. If you’re looking to expand your singular spice offerings, or create a new best-selling spice blend featuring saffron, call us today. Our food experts are ready to help!

To learn more about custom spice blending at Hela Spice, visit us at www.helaspice.com or contact us here.

0 Comment
Share Us On:
Leave A Comment


Have a product idea? Tell us all about it and your search for the perfect ingredients. Find it all at Hela Spice. Let’s talk about your next best-seller.