Saffron isn’t something that you’ll find in every housewife’s stock. This is mostly because of its price ($7,000+ per pound), but also because not everyone is sure what to use it for and how it tastes like.
Don’t get me wrong, saffron is rarely an ingredient in my recipes, but every now and then, I like to sprinkle my meals with that orange gold, especially when I have guests over.
I recently prepared saffron risotto for my cousin and his wife. She asked me for the recipe because she just couldn’t figure out what gives the rice such a unique flavor. When I said it was merely a pinch of saffron, she was blown away.
So, you want to know what does saffron taste like and is it really worth the price? Read on.
What is saffron and why is it so expensive?
Saffron is a plant obtained from a flower called ‘Crocus sativus.’ Its price is dictated by the fact that the flower of each saffron plant has three stigmas, and a plant has only three or four flowers at a time. Also, the flowers must be hand harvested, and since it is so delicate, it takes a long time to do that.
One pound of saffron is harvested from about 70,000 or more carefully collected flowers.
The collecting is not the end of the saffron making process. The stigmas and styles (threads) of saffron are dried to be prepared for use.
Even after the drying, saffron maintains its deep orange look.
What is saffron used for?
- We know that saffron is used for culinary endeavors, but that is not the only way people use this magical plant. Because of its striking color, saffron is often used for dying fabrics. It takes only a couple of threads to dye several pieces of clothing in bright yellow, which makes this plant very economical when used for these purposes.
- It also provides many health benefits. Saffron is one of the essential ingredients used in Ayurveda, an Indian healing practice. Furthermore, the Western medicine gives saffron credit for aiding in the improvement of many illnesses, including a cough, congestion, asthma, and cancer.
- As a spice, saffron acts as a colorant, adds flavor and enriches the food with nutrients such as vitamin A and C.
What does saffron taste like?
The thing about saffron is that the flavor it gives to the dish varies depending on the way it is used and the quantity of it added at a time.
Generally speaking, it is pungent, but it tastes sweet. The highly sought after spice has more than one tasting notes.
It is honey-like, semi-sweet, floral, mushroomy and musky. Because of that, it took only a pinch of saffron to give the extraordinary taste to the risotto I made for my cousin and his wife.
The quality of the spice you buy will also determine its taste. Some manufacturers mix saffron with paprika or other similar substances gives the food an odd flavor that only resembles real saffron a little bit.
To get the best possible taste, ask about the quality of the product you are purchasing, and avoid buying ground spice. It is always better to go with whole saffron thread.
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How to cook with saffron?
There are two ways to cook with saffron. One is to use saffron powder, and the other one to add saffron threads to the meals.
Cooking with powder is significantly easier because you can just add it directly to the meal without the need of pre-soaking or toasting.
The powders dissolve easily and evenly throughout the meal. Personally, while I like the ease of use of ground saffron, I think saffron threads are far more superior.
Saffron threads can be added to the dish in two different ways:
- You can soak the threads to draw the maximum flavor and color out of saffron. Submerge the threads in hot liquid (wine, chicken stock, milk…) and let them sit for ten to twenty minutes. This way, you will get the same property of ground saffron, of the taste that is evenly distributed throughout the entire meal. Once, I soaked the saffron threads in water over an entire night, and both the flavor and the color were robust.
- The other way of using saffron for cooking is crushing the threads by hand or using a mortar and pestle. This works best for recipes that already contain liquids such as paella or risotto because it enables the spice to float around the dish and give an even taste to it.
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What to cook with saffron?
- The list of the dishes that can be made with saffron is endless because it gives food a unique character. I like to add it to stews and curry-like dishes to add more flavor. One of the most amazing saffron recipes I tried is Persian saffron rice pudding (sholeh zard).
- Some of the classic recipes that require the use of saffron are Spanish paellas, Italian risotto Milanese French bouillabaisse, and Indian biryanis. This spice also gives a fantastic flavor when infused into creams.
The thing with saffron is that everyone has a different opinion about its taste.
This is probably because it provides various flavor, and you will notice the one which is prevalent to you. So, you won’t know for sure, until you try it out.
Hopefully, this article has made the mystery of saffron taste if a little bit closer to you. With the hints of how and for what to use it, you are fully equipped to start cooking with the edible gold.