Saffron Crocus

Saffron Crocus

One of the most expensive spices in the world comes from a small, unassuming flower – the saffron crocus! Not to be confused with the toxic common crocus, the saffron crocus is of the iris family and possesses long, thin red stigmas, or “threads”, that are carefully and delicately harvested for the spice saffron. Why does saffron cost so much? Well, the threads require hand-harvesting in the morning hours to avoid sun burn, and the flowers of between 50,000 and 75,000 plants are required to produce only one pound of saffron; each corm, or root bulb, produces only one to two flowers and each flower produces only three threads. Because of this, saffron is known by the nickname “red gold”, retailing for anywhere between $20 to $40 a single gram. The high price has caused it to be one of the most counterfeited spices in the world, along with cinnamon and vanilla.

Subtly sweet and a natural food dye, saffron is used to give a yellow-golden color to such classic dishes as bouillabaisse, Risotto alla Milanese, and Spanish paella. Believed to have been first discovered in Bronze-Age Greece, saffron has been cultivated for thousands of years as a spice, dye, and medicine. Today, Iran is the leading cultivator of saffron crocus, but the spice is also produced in Afghanistan, Greece, Morocco, and India. Very rarely does the average person get to taste a dish made with real saffron, but if you get the chance… savor every bite and consider yourself lucky!

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