Friday, July 8, 2011

Finding The Best Saffron For Your Next Recipe

Foods Bitz: Where does Saffron come from?
Stephen Sharp: Saffron comes from the crocus sativus plant. We purchase all our Saffron for sale at Florida Herb House direct from 3 different countries, Iran, Spain, and Greece. We choose our location depending on who is yielding the highest quality Saffron threads. Iran and Spain produce about 80% of the world's Saffron supply.

Food Bitz: Why is Saffron so expensive?
Stephen Sharp: That is a great question! Saffron requires huge amounts of work to produce. The best Saffron you can buy is the Saffron Threads. Each Saffron flower only has 3 threads or "Stigmas". On the top of each thread or stigma is an anther. The anther is the head of the thread and can weigh more than the thread itself. Often lesser quality Saffron has the anthers mixed in with the threads as they add weight. It takes over 13,000 individual threads to make just an ounce of Saffron so you can see why it is so expensive. Anywhere from 400,000 stigmas or upwards of 85,000 flowers are required to yield a pound of saffron! Also the intense labor involved in the picking and processing plays a large part in the high costs. We pride ourselves at Florida Herb House by offering the finest Saffron threads without the "Anthers".

Food Bitz: What are the Saffron stamens?
Stephen Sharp: Another great question! The male part of the flower is the stamen. Stamens are half the size of the stigmas. When dried the stamens are yellowish in color. Their appearance in the spice is a giveaway that the saffron being purchased is not top grade and has added dead weight. The lighter the color, the more stamens there are. True saffron powder has a rich vermilion color. The highest quality Saffron should not have any stamens mixed in with the threads as the yellow stamens offer little if any culinary value.

 Saffron Flower Parts

Foods Bitz: What are the Saffron stigmas?
Stephen Sharp: In a good crop, each plant typically produces several flowers. The stigma or female part of the flower is the actual source of saffron. The stigmas are painstakingly picked by hand. Then they are dried or cured and transformed into pure saffron.

Foods Bitz: What about fake and imitation Saffron?
Stephen Sharp: Yes some companies sell another flower called Safflower or "American Saffron". They advertise this as "Saffron" to unsuspecting customers. The color of your Saffron is the first clue to its quality. The general rule of thumb is high quality Saffron should be a uniform red color and the threads should be brittle. It should have a distinct aroma also not a musty smell. Florida Herb House sells both Safflower and Saffron and advertise our Safflower as "Safflower" so not to confuse any novice spice buyers. We also sell both the mixed Saffron (Saffron Threads Mixed With The Stamens) and also the pure Saffron threads (Saffron Threads With No Stamens Or Anthers) for a great variety of choices for all types of chefs and cuisines. Every ounce of our Saffron ranks highest on the color and aroma scale!

Foods Bitz: What does Saffron taste like?
Stephen Sharp: Saffron has a very light natural favor. Its earthy aroma when used properly helps many chefs look good or even great. In many cases. It does take some practice to learn how much Saffron to use in a particular recipe. The flavor from Saffron can not be boiled away which makes it an easy addition to any recipe calling for it.

Foods Bitz: How do you cook with Saffron?
Stephen Sharp: If you use too much Saffron in a recipe, your food will result with a medicine like taste. Use just the right amount and saffron will add a unique pleasant and lightly spicy flavor to a dish. Most recipes will call for a good pinch of the threads. Just a quarter teaspoon will season rice for four or six people. Cookbook authors often recommend soaking the threads in water or milk before adding to a recipe. This also encourages that gorgeous yellow color to shine through.
 Saffron Stigmas
Foods Bitz: What foods is Saffron used with the most?
Stephen Sharp: Saffron is commonly used in many Asian dishes as well as various fish and rice recipes. It is the backbone to a French Bouillabaisse. Chefs consider it a must for paella, as well as for arroz con pollo, chicken with rice. Risotto Milanese is the Italian offering for saffron rice. It also can be used in tomato, potato, and soup recipes.

James G. - Austin's Food Critics LLC

For more information on purchasing the finest picks of saffron thread visit one of the following web sites,