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I'm just mad about Saffron, Saffron's mad about me
[Cover photo by Varsha.] Saffron, sold as either threads or powder, has a pungent, slightly bittersweet taste, which is quite intense, so that very little is needed in cooking. This is lucky because it is the world's most expensive spice (over $200 per ounce). There are several reasons for this: saffron threads are the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus, each of which contains only three threads; the threads must be picked by hand; more than 75,000 flowers are required just to produce 1 lb of saffron filaments; and it has a relatively brief autumn harvesting season. Saffron is grown mainly in Iran and Spain and, in smaller amounts, in Greece, Italy, Turkey and India (the saffron of Kashmir, the most prized of all, is now mostly unavailable in the West). Most saffron sold in the U.S. is from Spain. Because so little is used in a dish, it is important that saffron be well distributed throughout the dish. The spice may simply be crumbled into sauces and soups. For other dishes, it works better to first dissolve the saffron in a small amount of liquid such as water or stock and then add to the dish. It can also be toasted before using. A pinch of saffron (1 pinch = 1/8 tsp) contains about 20 threads, and 1/2 tsp threads = 1/4 tsp saffron powder. Like most seasonings, the flavor of saffron diminishes over time, but if stored in a container with a tight lid in a cool, dry place it will keep at least 3 years; threads retain their flavor longer than powder.