Saffron: Bright Spice
In a restaurant kitchen there’s little to no pageantry amongst a chef’s tools. The pans are singed and blackened from repeated visits to the stove; the knives, sharp weapons that cut through vegetables and meats with steely efficiency, and the chopping blocks slashed with deep scars.
But in Maude’s quaint upstairs kitchen, there is a vivid exception to the blunt utilitarian rule. On a shelf, tucked away is a surprisingly pretty tin, white with precise red lettering and a picturesque floral scene painted across its top and sides.
Inside the tin, in sealed, clear plastic with a white label and plain black type are tiny sanguine threads, the width of an eyelash. Their crooked countenances twist upon themselves. They’re lighter than air (well almost). 13,125 threads weigh only one ounce. This is saffron. It is possibly the most exotic of spices, and it is certainly the world’s most expensive spice. Prices of saffron vary depending on the grade or quality, but range from US$500 to US$5,000 per pound, according to Wikipedia.
Saffron threads are the stigmas from the crocus sativus flower. Each flower produces only three stigmas *aka saffron threads per flower. The delicate stigmas must be hand harvested, which accounts in part for the spice’s high price.
Saffron comes from Western Asia and most likely the region once referred to as Persia. In ancient times saffron was used medicinally, as an offering to deities, and as an aprhodisiac, as well as for food and sartorial dyes. With such vast uses, saffron’s importance eclipsed that of most spices.
During the middle ages as the Black Death swept across Europe, saffron was sought after as a medicinal treatment. And so profound was the demand that when a saffron shipment was hijacked, the conflict escalated into a short war known as the Saffron War.
Today, the largest producer is of saffron is Iran, with Spain second. Saffron’s aroma is described as a mixture of sweet and bitter.
You can find saffron in Maude’s kitchen where the spice adds flavor, color and, dare we say, a little beauty.
For more on the saffron: