Saffron is the dried yellow stigmas from a small purple crocus. Each flower provides only three stigmas, which must be carefully hand-picked and then dried, an extremely labor-intensive process. It takes 225,000 stigmas to make one pound of saffron, making saffron the most expensive spice in the world. Fortunately, a little saffron goes a long way as a colorant and flavoring for cheeses, pastry, rice and seafood. Saffron is used in spice blends for paella, curry, kheer and bouillabaisse. Powdered saffron loses its flavor more readily and can be easily adulterated with imitations. Saffron is native to the Mediterranean, and most imported saffron comes from Spain.
Season: available year-round
How to select: Available in threads (whole stigmas) and ground, your best bet is to go with the threads. Not only will they retain their flavor longer, but you will also be assured you have purchased pure saffron. Saffron should be packaged in foil to protect from air and light. Bulk saffron is often sold from small wooden boxes.
How to store: Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to six months for maximum flavor. Saffron, like other herbs and spices, is sensitive to light, so wrap the packet in foil to protect it further. It will not spoil, but it will lose increasingly more and more of its flavor with age.
How to prepare: Saffron threads should be crushed just before using.
Matches well with: chicken, curries, fish, lamb, mussels, paella, rice, risotto, shellfish, soup, tomatoes