If you’ve ever eaten authentic yellow curry at an Indian restaurant or yellow rice in a Spanish dish, you’ve tasted and seen the beautiful properties of saffron. If you’ve ever attempted to make a dish using saffron at home, you might be breathless after seeing just how much this wonderful little spice costs in the store. Saffron price per gram can cost up to $25. That’s basically $2 dollars per dish, depending on how many people you are feeding.
Why is this spice more expensive than an ounce of gold if it comes from a plant, which has seeds, which should mean that you could literally grow money on *leaves? The answer lies in just how involved and delicate the process of producing the thin strands of the fragrant and aromatic saffron.
The Purple Crocus of the Saffron plant takes an amazing amount of time, energy, and skill to harvest both a high quality and high enough quality to be consumed. Each flower can only yield three threads of saffron spice. This translates to about 80,000 individual flowers to produce one pound of saffron. Per pound that works out to over $1,500, depending on where it is grown. Saffron also requires very fertile land and temperate weather to yield the pungency desired across the globe. Spain is the number one producer, followed by India, and Kashmir.
14,000 threads can be ground into an ounce of powder, but the threads are often sold whole to chefs and experienced cooks because the flavor and aroma is stronger when left unadulterated as possible. Many stores knowingly and unknowingly sell fake saffron threads. There’s a huge counterfeit industry for saffron that has gotten so skilled over the years, they can fool most buyers by the naked eye.
Although saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, it really does transform dishes with just a single thread or two. Used in various dishes around the world, you can find saffron front and center in Mediterranean cuisine, Asian, Spanish, and even some Eastern European.
Without saffron in its most famous dishes of paella, risottos, or yellow curries, the dishes just feel flat, simple, and plain. It can be the difference between survival food and luxurious dishes fit for a king. In fact, saffron was often used as a dye for emperors, kings, and generals as a sign of prestige.
When you do decide to take the opportunity to try and incorporate fresh saffron into your dishes, remember to buy it in a sealed container and store it in a dark, dry place after you use it. Preferably in something like a mason jar inside a closed cabinet. Remember if the deal on saffron is way below the average market going price (you can do a quick browsing online) then chances are it isn’t real saffron or it is mixed with filler ingredients.
Saffron is so distinct and aromatic, though. Once you’ve had the real deal, it’s easy to taste and smell the difference in your dishes. Even as an amateur, saffron can make your food taste like it came out of a five-star restaurant.
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