The spice of kings is saffron – a spice as expensive, or sometimes more so, than gold. The reason behind the high price is not its rarity, or a difficulty in growing the spice. It is entirely down to the laborious process of harvesting!
The saffron crocus (crocus sativus) is an autumn flowering perennial. The red “threads” (the stigmas and styles of the flower) will turn into the precious spice once dry. I’ve been growing saffron in my garden for a number of years, with varying degrees of success. Last year, none of the corms produced any flowers. This year has been much better! 🙂
One day last week, I was able to pick twelve flowers!! Saffron flowers emerge shortly after the leaves appear, sometime in October. The leaves persist until around May, when they dry out and the plants lie dormant over the summer. Saffron plants need free draining soil and a sunny position – apart from that they aren’t fussy. I adore all the different colours in the saffron flowers, they are so vibrant and gorgeous!
The flowers should be picked as soon as they open. The threads are then removed from the flowers and dried. I like to keep the flowers in water until they wilt, they are so beautiful to look at!
Each flower has three threads and produces on average 30 mg of fresh saffron or 7 mg of dried saffron. About 150 flowers yield one gram of saffron! Saffron flowers need to be hand picked, and the threads are also removed by hand, hence its very high price!!
Here’s what the threads above amount to after drying:
Not a great deal, but I’m hoping that my saffron harvest isn’t quite finished yet!! 🙂
The use of saffron dates back more than 3,500 years, and it has always been an expensive spice. It’s been used as a fabric dye, for medicinal use, and for culinary purposes. Here are some dishes which wouldn’t be the same without saffron: risotto milanese, paella, bouillabaisse, jewelled rice, and biriyani. There are many other culinary preparations which use saffron – do you have any favourites??
And to finish this post, here’s a tip which came from the grower I bought my corms from. He told me never to add the saffron threads directly to a dish. He recommended that the threads be soaked in a some warm water for a little while, strained out and dried. They could then be used up to three times, much like a vanilla bean. Using saffron that way makes it a lot less expensive!