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Saffron extract

Updated on May 18, 2015

A bit about it

We all know the Spice saffron and have used it in cooking. What do we actually know about it though. Did you realise it was first used by the ancient Greeks or that is comes from the stems of the Crocus plant. It is not something that grows naturally in the wild and came about by cross pollination. I certainly didn't .Also, have you ever wondered why it is so expensive.All is about to be revealed and you will be suitably enlightened.


Saffron is one of the most popular and is probably the most expensive examples of spices that can be found. It has been around for centuries and is believed to have originated in ancient Greece. Saffron is best regarded for its distinct aroma and bright red colour, though for som reason it colours food yellow when used in cooking. There are an awful lot of types and grades of saffrone so you need to watch what you are doing when making any purchases as it is very easy to pay too much. A bit of research will help you greatly if you are thinking of buying some saffron.

The main use of this spice is to add flavour and aroma to food when cooking. The smallest amount can make a massive difference to a dish and you will find that a little of this spice can go a very long way if used correctly.I have heard many people rave about truffles and for the price, a little saffron is much better value. It can also last a long time in storage as long as you use an airtight container.

Saffron actually comes from the dried stamens of the crocus plant. The stems have to be picked by hand and are then dried out. This is an extremely laborious process and it's partly because of this that the price is so high. There are also not many stems per flower so quite a few are needed to produce a reasonable amount of the spice. The drying also reduces the amount greatly size so it takes a lot of flowers to make a little spice.

One of the best ways to gauge the quality is by its colour. Generally speaking, as the colour of the spice darkens then the quality of the spice gets higher. Be careful to buy from a reputable source as traders have been known to dye the spice to give the impression of a higher grade product. Organic saffron is probably the best but will also command the highest price. You should be safe enough buying from a supermarket but always look for the international standard logo.

Many people believe that saffron has many health benefits. There are claims that digestion can be greatly improved and that the spice is a tremendous detoxifying agent. It has also been hailed as a powerful aphrodisiac in many oriental cultures. This may be due to its powerful aroma. For me, it's just a flavour enhancement for food though these claims seem to add to the mystery and romance of this spice

Many people grow the crocus flower at home. All you really need is a dry soil and a sunny area in your garden. Some of the varieties have poisonous bulbs so again its worth buying from a reputable vendor, just to be on the safe side. It's fairly hard to get the stems dried at home and many people just soak them in liquid and use this for cooking. The stems can still be used but make sure you store them in an airtight container or the won't last long

It is interesting to know that Saffron spice is mentioned bay William Shakespere in some of his works

Saffron recipes


Ingredients: (4 servings)

1 large chicken

long grain rice 2 cups

yogurt 1 tub

good saffron, 1/2 teaspoon

1 good sized onion

3 egg yolks


black pepper


Wash the rice and soak it in salted water

Cut the onions into slices and fry until golden. Cut into small pieces and fry in onions until brown. Add some water and simmer.

Boil some water in a latge pot. Pour in the rice and cook until ready.

Mix oil and the yogurt mix into a non-stick pot and add a thin layer of rice. Place a layer of chicken on top followed by another layer of rice and keep doing this till all is used

Cook in an oven at 250 for 2 hours.

Saffron Rice

Ingredients: (serves 6)

3 cups long-grain basmati rice

8 cups water

2 tablespoons plain yogurt

1 teaspoon ground saffron

3/4 cup butter or olive oil or ghee


Servings: 6

Prep time: 15 min.

Cooking time: 1 hour 10 min

1. Make sure to was th rice well

2. Bring water to a boil in a large pot and add the washed and drained rice. Boil for 10 minutes till soft.

4. Mix 2 spoons of rice, the yogurt, butter or oil and 1/2 cup hot water, and some saffron water.

5. In the pot, spread the yogurt-rice mixture and this will create a tender edge.

6. Take one spoon full of rice at a time and place it on top of the yogurt mixture, until a dome is formed.

7. Cover and cook rice for 10-15 minutes over medium heat in order to form a golden crust.

Saffron bulbs

Saffron bulbs, seeds, corms or whatever you want to call them, are all really all the same thing. Technically speaking there are no such thing as saffron seeds in a literal meaning as they are actually the bulbs of the crocus plant which grow and produce the beautiful crocus flower, from which the valuable saffron threads come.

Each bulb produces one flower and in general each flower produces 3 stigmas or threads, as they are sometimes called. To give you an idea of why saffron is so expensive, you could expect to grow 100 – 150 crocus flowers to get just on gram of saffron and the threads all have to be harvested manually by hand.

Prices of Bulbs

There are many different types and prices of these bulbs but for small quantities you would be expecting to pay around £12.50 for a pack of 100 bulbs. You can buy them online or in most garden centres and they are fairly each to get hold of.Obviously the price per bulbs will go down when you start buying in bulk but for the normal man on the street I think this price is fairly reasonable. The bulbs will multiply year on year so after 3 years say, you should get 5 flowers for each 1 bulb that was originally planted. Do be careful if you are planning to buy some if these bulbs and grow them as there are many different types of crocus and some of them are actually poisonous to make sure to buy from a reputable source.

Most Popular Bulbs

The most popular saffron bulbs are probably the Sativus ( better known as the common crocus ) and Cartwrightianus Albus which are respectively the white and purple flowering crocus. These modern day plants are directly descended from the original Crocus Cartwrightianus which was first artificially propagated in ancient Greece. The original plant was “male sterile” and these new varieties were produced to make the process of growing saffron much easier. I am sure you are already aware that saffron is not a product that grows naturally in the wild.

These are just a couple of the various types of saffron bulbs that are used worldwide. Over the years scientists have tried to standardise saffron and there are many laboratory tests to evaluate the grade and quality of different products . Most of the growers, however, reject these tests and prefer to rate different types themselves based on smell, taste and colour. I myself think this is a much better way to rate different types, though you would really need to be somewhat of an expert to tell the difference between most of the different types. It’s unlikely anyway that you would be able to get any of the bulbs outside the popular varieties as many of the growers are extremely secretive about their own products.

In general, though there are many different types, most people think of saffron in terms of Eastern and Western saffron. Though Spanish saffron is the most famous you will be surprised to know that over 90% of the world’s saffron is actually produced in Iran. So if you have some in the house it’s most likely that this is where it came from.

I hope that gives you a bit of an overview of saffron bulbs, as you can see it’s very easy to know the basics but it would take a lifetime to become a real expert as the various types are virtually unlimited.

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      othellos 4 years ago

      Very nice and informative lens. We use saffron in our kitchen. Your recipes are interesting. I think the price is a big drawback for this product.

    • waldenthreenet profile image

      waldenthreenet 5 years ago

      Interesting topic. A few recipe photos will help.Congrads on your Squidoo Trophy recently. Thanks.