Saffron has its own enigma, probably because of the high price tag attached to it and also because of its vibrant and strong colour. Specially when one is living in the Middle East, this beautiful spice becomes a part of the regular culinary vocabulary as Za’atar and Sumac.
Its versatility lies in the fact that it can blend into so many different kind of dishes – starting from beverages to elaborate main courses – be it is rice or meat dishes and finally becoming an inseparable ingredient for a lot of popular desserts. Enjoy!
In the Middle East, saffron is widely available and can be found in the spice souks through to the supermarkets. However, one has to be very careful in order to avoid buying fake saffron. Ishita B Saha, our Editor hits her favourite part of the town – Al Fahidi Historical District. She visits the Royal Saffron Herbs, whose original shop is in Deira spice market and is almost 65 years. Here, she not only comes across a moisturizing lotion that the local women use, which is created by mixing saffron with other herbs and milk but also gets to sniff the most expensive saffron in the world – priced at Dhs 8,000/kg!
It takes 150 crocus flowers to yield just 1gm of aromatic and colourful saffron. Popularly referred to as the sunshine spice, saffron is made by harvesting the stigmas from the crocus flower. Due to it’s delicate nature the stigmas are hand picked, air-dried and it’s no wonder then that saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, even more expensive then gold – gram for gram! Saffron has many uses ranging from medicinal, religious, cosmetic and last but not the least culinary.
Widely used in Persian, Indian, European, Arab and Turkish cuisines, saffron contributes to the yellow- orange colouring, a unique aroma and a floral delicate taste to dishes. Some describe this floral and delicate quality as a metallic honey taste or grassy and sweet. Popular Saffron dishes, many of which are considered as delicacies, include Risotto from Italy, Paella from Spain, Bouillabaisse from France, Biryani and several desserts from the subcontinent as well as many Middle Eastern dishes. In India, saffron is an indispensable ingredient in many recipes including rice, sweets and ice creams providing both colour and a distinctive flavour to many dishes and features in many traditional festive dishes. A common ingredient in Saudi Coffee also known as Al-Qahwa, Saffron is sometimes mixed with other spices to give it a beautiful golden hue.
Saffron is graded and priced according to its strength and colour, Sargol being the most expensive variety – 100% red in colour, followed by Pushall, which is red/ orange in colour, and finally Konge which is yellow in colour and has the lowest grade, strength and colour.
Tips for buying saffron
- It should be aromatic and floral and red in colour;
- Always purchase from reputable buyer;
- Buy in small quantities as little goes a long way;
- Finally, expect to pay a premium price for premium saffron!
Cooking with Saffron
- Don’t over use it as it has a very strong taste which can be overpowering.
- Never throw saffron threads whole into your cooking:
- Crush saffron threads lightly, then soak in hot water for several minutes prior to use to help release the beneficial components and release the beautiful colour;
- or grind the threads in a pestle & mortar.
- Store unused saffron in an air tight container to retain its taste and properties.
This story is exclusive to FoodeMag dxb.