Saffron in our A-Z - Cooking Index
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.
Saffron is used all over the world to flavour and colour foods from Spanish paella to French bouillabaisse to Arabic lamb and chicken dishes to Indian dessert sauces, as well as in many Swedish and Cornish recipes, but as it's such an expensive spice, it's important to get every bit of flavor out of it. This can be achieved by either toasting and powdering the threads or steeping the saffron ahead of time in hot water or broth.
Saffron's aroma is often described by connoisseurs as reminiscent of metallic honey with grassy or hay like notes, while its taste has been noted also as hay like, yet bitter. Saffron also contributes a luminous yellow orange colouring to foods. Because of the unusual taste and colouring it adds to foods, saffron is widely used in Arab, Central Asian, European, Indian, Iranian, and Moroccan cuisines.
Saffron is a native of Southern Europe. It was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans. This herb is now cultivated in Mediterranean countries, particularly in Spain, and also in Austria, France, Greece, England, Turkey, Persia, India and China. The La Macha belt of Spain is the largest producer of saffron in the world and contributes 80-90% of the world saffron production. In India the cultivation of saffron is confined to Pampore and Kistwar areas of Jammu and Kashmir, extending to nearly 4000 acres.
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.