This is the comprehensive guide to saffron. Learn how this floral and delicious spice is used in Indian cooking and where to source it!
What is it?
Saffron strands that are used in cooking are the stigmas or the female portion of the saffron flower. It is also known as kesar (Hindi) and kungumappoo (Tamil). They have a sweet and floral taste and leave a yellow-ish hue when bloomed in liquid.
Where does saffron come from?
Most of the world's saffron comes from either Iran, Spain, Afghanistan, Greece, or India. It takes about 1,000 flowers to yield enough saffron for 1 ounce of saffron! Plus, harvesting saffron is a labor-intensive job that requires farmers to hand pick the flowers at certain times of day. This is why saffron is so dang expensive!
How to recognize high quality saffron?
Each of the different saffron growing regions has its own classification system that determines the quality of the saffron. Here are the things to look for when buying high quality saffron:
- Red stigmas - The higher the proportion of red in the stigma, the higher the quality of the saffron.
- Aroma - The saffron should smell sweet and fragrant.
- Slowly release color - The easiest test for "fake" or tampered saffron is to see how the saffron releases its color when added to cool water. If the saffron immediately releases a yellow color that means that chemicals and colors were added. If the saffron slowly releases the yellow color, then it's likely real saffron.
Where to buy the best saffron?
It is best to go to your local Middle Eastern or Indian grocery store to buy saffron. Alternatively, you can buy saffron online from either Diaspora Co., which has ethically sourced single-origin Diaspora Co Kashmiri Saffron, or Zaran Saffron, which sells both Spanish and Iranian saffron.
Substitutes for saffron
There is not a perfect 1:1 substitute for saffron. However, you can substitute green cardamom as a replacement for its floral taste and a pinch of turmeric as a replacement for its yellow color.
It is important to bloom saffron
When using saffron, it is important to bloom it in water to help the saffron release its yellow color and aroma. Saffron has a hard time blooming when fat is present so it is best to do it in water.
Using saffron in Indian recipes
Saffron is more commonly used in sweet dishes like desserts or drinks. However, it is so versatile that it can be used in savory dishes like biryani or saffron rice for its color and complex taste. Here are some recipes from the blog that use this spice:
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