Saffron, botanical name crocus sativus, has been known and appreciated as the most valuable of natural spices for thousands of years. Records detailing the use of saffron date back to ancient Egypt and Rome where it was used as a dye, in perfumes, and as a drug, as well as for culinary purposes. Today, it is largely imported from Iran, in the provence of southern Khorason as well as Spain, which are recognised as producing high quality saffron spice. It takes 170,000 flowers which would weigh 100kg to obtain just 1kg of dried saffron. About 14,000 threads (actually the dried stigmas of the crocus flower) equals one ounce of saffron, and the flowers have to be individually hand-picked in the autumn when fully open.
Today, saffron has found a variety of other applications, as scientific research has shown that it has many medicinal uses. It is said to aid in digestion and to be helpful for stomach pains and other related ailments. It is also sometimes used to help ease or cure other illnesses, such as fever or flu symptoms.
High quality saffron spice stamens can be difficult to source and they are expensive. To get the best out of them, soak in hot water to rehydrate and draw out their wonderful colour, flavour and aroma. Saffron powder is less expensive than saffron strands and readily passes on its flavour and colour. Saffron flavoured dishes can be often found on the menus of many top-tier restaurants, and chefs claim that Iranian saffron is by far the most superior. Saffron also features quite prominently in Mediterranean cuisine and is also often used to flavour soups and sauces.
Iran produces 220 tonnes of saffron annually in over 55,000 hectares of farms which are most suitable for the cultivation of this plant. Approximately 170 tonnes of Iranian Saffron is exported to over 40 countries in the world, 70% of which goes to Spain and the United Arab Emirates and has been confirmed by international authorities as the highest quality in the world.
Both Iranian Saffron and Spanish Saffron are especially good when used in cooking seafood dishes such as bouillabaisse and paella. It is also used in risotto and other rice dishes. Try adding some to your next beef stew or tomato-based sauce. To make a wonderful marinade for fish, add saffron threads, garlic, and thyme to vinegar. Saffron is also used in bread and cake cooking. Use your imagination and be creative when using saffron in your cooking.