Saffron comes from the Arabic word Za’faran. It is neither a herb, nor strictly a spice, being the stigmas or filaments of a flower, Crocus sativus, a pretty purple-petalled crocus native to Asia and the Mediterranean that flowers in the autumn.
There is heard tell from stone-age maidens tales, that saffron is the oldest flavouring-ingredient known to man. Each flower contains 3 long stigmata or filaments that look like dark orange/crimson threads that hang out of the flower when ready to be harvested. Its smell when fresh, is elusive and subtle, a little of fresh hay, a hint of jasmine, a little of cinnamon, both sweet and pungent. The flavour is both bitter and sweet like hay and honey. But saffron is chiefly valued for its colour. When properly prepared, these filaments turn all they touch into gold: a delicate yellow, like old gold, the colour of sunshine on sand.
In contrast to tumeric’s vulgar yellow and the ivory yellow from marigold petals or calendula which are sometimes labeled as saffron. The flavor from these cheaper substitutes is not nearly as distinctive as saffron. Saffron is a substantive dye with a distinctive recognizable scent, flavour and colour. Read more
A little saffron goes a long way- just a pinch will flavor and colour 450g rice. The best saffron, first grade is capable of colouring 10 000 times its own volume, but the amount you need depends on the freshness and the care with which the raw material has been gathered and dried.
Saffron is known as the world’s most expensive spice, the golden spice because it is hand planted, hand picked. 225 000 filaments must be picked between dawn and 10am from 75 000 crocus flowers to produce one pound or 450g of saffron. They must be protected from sunlight, heat and moisture as these accelerate the aging process. The price of saffron is determined by its colouring power, with categories from I to IV, with I being the strongest.
To ensure maximum flavor and aroma, saffron should be stored away from other spices, in a dry dark place. Do not refrigerate. If stored at 18°C and less than 40% humidity, saffron will age very graciously and can be kept for years.