Taste of saffron – Why is Saffron so expensive?

Saffron has been known and appreciated since antiquity for its taste and medicinal properties. But do you know why this is the most expensive spice and is it really worth it? At our website you will receive useful information about Saffron: where it grows, how to choose and store it, as well as everything about cooking Saffron or Zaafaran dishes.

What is Saffron?

Saffron is a dried orange-red “stigma” or strings of a particular crocus flower that is used as a fragrant bitter seasoning and coloring base for both food and drink.
There are only 3 strands in each flower, they are carefully hand-picked as soon as the crocus opens. Almost 75,000 crocus flowers have to be harvested and processed to produce just half a kilogram of dried Zaafaran, so this spice comes at a fairly high price.
Just a few strands of Zaafaran infuse food with an intense yellow color and unmatched aroma.
The world’s most popular Zaafaran dishes: French broth, Italian Milanese risotto, Spanish paella and Indian biryani and pulao.
It is used not only in cooking and beverages, but also in medicines, perfumes and paints.
This exotic spice is native to southern Europe and is today cultivated in many countries around the world, especially in Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Turkey, Iran and the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir. It is no longer found in the wild.
Iran is the largest supplier of Saffron (about 90% of world production).
Crocus seed is a bulbous perennial plant belonging to the Iris family, known by the botanical name Crocus sativus.
It grows to about 15-20 cm in height and blooms for only a couple of weeks between October and November. Each bulb produces 2-3 flowers.
Lavender flowers have a perianth, consisting of a pistil that connects three “stigmas” or threads to the rest of the plant. Each stigma is 3 from 3 to 5 cm long and looks like tubes 0.5-1 mm wide expanding towards the apex. These orange-yellow colored threads, along with the pistil, represent Zaafaran – a valuable condiment. The exquisite petals and stamens are of no value.

Taste of saffron – Why is Saffron so expensive?

Saffron flower

How the seasoning is made

Obtaining Zaafaran is very laborious, so you need to collect delicate crocus flowers by hand during mass flowering. The flowers are carefully picked and transferred to rooms and under sheds in order to separate the pistils on the same day.
The yellow columns are separated from the stigmas immediately after harvest, or the finished Zaafaran is sorted out, choosing the yellow parts.
The yarns are then dried in the sun or in a drying plant. Thousands of flowers must be harvested and processed for one gram of Saffron.

Saffron smell and taste

The delicate aroma of Zaafaran is slightly floral with a warm undertone, more like freshly cut grass than a real flower. It has a unique, pungent taste of bitter honey. Use this seasoning sparingly to avoid the medicinal odor.

How to choose and where to buy

There are 2 forms of this seasoning commercially available: individual stigmas and powder. Fresh Zaafaran is sold in specialized spice stores. Shredded can be found in large grocery supermarkets. Try buying whole dry thread (stigmas) instead of powdered thread, as it is often falsified. Choose a well-sealed container with an authentic brand name, with date of packaging and expiration date.
The fresh spice has a bright red color, and when rubbed between the fingers, a very pleasant aroma should stand out and a spot of golden yellow color should form on the skin. Look for long strands, 2 to 4 cm. Avoid low quality products with gray-colored streaks or light spots.
Avoid buying ground Zaafaran (in powder form) as it is common to counterfeit this expensive condiment.
Zaafaran is counterfeited with turmeric, calendula flowers, safflower, and scraps of cotton threads. For weight, soak in water or vegetable oil. To improve the appearance, the counterfeit is tinted with synthetic dyes.
Starch, soda, salt, gypsum, ground red pepper, etc. are mixed with low-quality ground Saffron.


Taste of saffron – Why is Saffron so expensive?

Iran Saffron

Why do you need to use Saffron?

Modern scientific research shows that Zaafaran does have valuable health benefits and plays a role in fighting disease.
Zaafaran flower pistils contain several essential oils, the most important of which is safranal, which gives the spice a pleasant aroma. Other volatile oils in the composition are cineole, phenylethanol, pinene, borneol, geraniol, limonene, p-cymene, linalool, terpinene-4-oil, etc.
This colorful spice contains many non-volatile active ingredients: α-crocin, a carotenoid compound that gives the pistils their natural golden yellow color. There are other carotenoids in Zaafaran, including zeaxanthin, lycopene, α- and β-carotenes. These are important antioxidants that help protect the human body from cancer, infections, and act as immunomodulators.
This spice is an excellent source of minerals such as copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cells and body fluids that help control heart rate and blood pressure. The human body uses manganese and copper as cofactors for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is important for the production of red blood cells and as a cofactor for cytochrome oxidase enzymes.
Zaafaran is also rich in many vital nutrients, including vitamins A and C, folic acid, riboflavin, and niacin, which are essential to support optimal health.
The active ingredients in Zaafaran help in the treatment and relief of symptoms of problems such as:
⦁ Heart diseases
⦁ Colds and coughs
⦁ Diseases of the gastrointestinal tract
⦁ Insulin resistance
⦁ Depression
⦁ Premenstrual syndrome
⦁ Insomnia and anxiety
⦁ Retinal degeneration that occurs with age
⦁ Contraindications (harm)
Consuming Saffron as a spice is considered safe, but not recommended during pregnancy and lactation. High doses can act as a uterine stimulant and, in severe cases, cause miscarriage, so this seasoning is contraindicated in pregnant women in order not to cause harm.
Large amounts (more than 1-2 tablespoons) can be toxic, although Saffron poisoning is very rare.

Taste of saffron – Why is Saffron so expensive?

Use saffron in food


One pinch of fresh Zaafaran is enough to enhance the flavor and color of the entire dish.
It is a fairly versatile spice that can be used in both savory and sweet recipes.
Saffron does not mix well with other spices and therefore is not included in spice
Mixtures, but is almost always consumed independently.

There are several ways to use Saffron in the kitchen:

⦁ Whole threads can be added directly to dishes.
⦁ The threads are crushed with a pestle and mortar.
⦁ Before adding to dry dishes, Zaafaran strands are pre-poured with hot water to reveal the aroma.

Here are some tips on where to put saffron:

⦁ Paella, risotto and other rice dishes.
⦁ In soups and sauces.
⦁ Desserts include custards and ice cream.
⦁ It is a great addition to chicken.
⦁ For a delicious marinade for fish, mix chopped Saffron threads, garlic, thyme and vinegar.
⦁ It is added to dough to give sweet baked goods (cakes, pastries and cookies) a golden hue and delicate aroma.
⦁ A tiny pinch of Zaafaran added to a glass of champagne will transform the drink into a golden elixir.
⦁ Tea or coffee flavored with Saffron and cardamom are soothing and healing drinks that are good for the heart.
Saffron and cinnamon are added to whole milk or yogurt and honey for a simple version of the famous Indian yogurt Lassi drink.
⦁ It is an excellent substitute for synthetic yellow food colors.

Taste of saffron – Why is Saffron so expensive?

Saffron in tea

How to replace saffron in a recipe

Saffron has a unique aroma and flavor that is so difficult to replicate that some even argue that there is no substitute for this spice.
If you find it difficult to find a justification for buying such an expensive condiment, you still have several options for replacing Zaafaran:
A small amount of turmeric mimics Saffron in color, but does not substitute for taste. Experts suggest combining it with paprika. To make this substitute, combine ¼ teaspoon of turmeric with ½ teaspoon of Zaafaran.
Safflower is considered to be an excellent substitute for Saffron, as it has a similar ability to color food and a pleasant, original taste. If a recipe requires 1 teaspoon of Zaafaran, use a teaspoon of safflower instead.
You can use marigold flowers to recreate the same color as Saffron. You will need to dry the flowers and then grind to a powder that can be added to the dish instead of the Zaafaran threads.
You have read the complete information on what Saffron is and how to choose and use it correctly. The beneficial properties of this spice make it a valuable culinary ingredient popular all over the world. Try Zaafaran as well, and it may become your new culinary favorite.
Saffron has many valuable qualities, including a sophisticated aroma. Real Zaafaran is ranked among the 6 most expensive products in the world. However, the price is fully justified. You can get the spice only in a certain period, lasting about 1 week a year, and at the same time, dry, calm weather is necessary. In addition, the collection of Saffron stigmas is a very laborious process, and its cultivation is costly: about 20 kilograms of spice are removed from 1 hectare of plantation. But the properties of Zaafaran are well worth the effort and money. It relieves pain, improves digestion, perfectly harmonizes the emotional and physical background, relieves depression, and cleanses the blood and liver. Its use in the correct dosage does not carry the side effects inherent in pharmacy counterparts.

Taste of saffron – Why is Saffron so expensive?

Iran saffron

Saffron in nature

Another name for the Zaafaran plant is sowing crocus, it comes from Asia. Outwardly, it looks like several bulbous tubers, from which 1-3 flowers bloom directly. The color of the petals is most often yellow, orange or purple of varying degrees of saturation. The orange colored stigmas are of value.


Saffron in nature is presented in a variety: over 80 species, some of which are included in the Red Book. On an industrial scale, the plant is cultivated for export, mainly on plantations in India, Iran, Spain. In particular, ¾ of the total is produced in Spain.
Kashmiri Zaafaran (varieties Shahi, Mogra and Lachha) from the northern part of India is considered to be of high quality. The premium Spanish Zaafaran is called Coupe and contains selected crocus stigmas with the most delicate aroma and excellent taste. The second highest, Superior, which includes solid stigmas, is more common. However, the most popular spice in the world is from Iran, the volume of which slightly exceeds 80% of the world’s exported spice.

How to choose saffron and spot a fake

The spice is sold in the form of whole stigmas or powder. It is often forged, so great is the temptation to make easy money, albeit in an unclean way. As a substitute, dried calendula petals ground to a state of flour, turmeric powder (Indian fake), safflower (safflower), even paper and wood chips. Less frequently used “analogues” include Imeretian Saffron, cardobenedict, yviteli yvavili, marigolds, blessed knicus. Fakes are sold on their own or as part of mixtures like hops-suneli.
When going to the market to buy this spice, it is important to know how to choose the right Zaafaran. It is best, of course, to purchase it not ground. The best quality stigmas sink when immersed in water. Also, good quality stamens do not have yellow “legs” at the base.

Taste of saffron – Why is Saffron so expensive?

Saffron in food

An easy way to tell a real saffron powder from a fake

As for the powder, the noble crocus makes the water a rich red-orange. The color of water with dissolved substitutes is yellow.

Buy in trusted places, pay attention to the manufacturer

Also, avoid low cost products and check on packaging where Zaafaran is produced. It is better to purchase goods from three leading countries of production.
If possible, be sure to smell the offered spice, the smell should be rich with a slight bitterness. Otherwise, either in front of you is a fake, or the Zaafaran is expired or it was stored incorrectly.

Taste of saffron – Why is Saffron so expensive?

Best Saffron in the World

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