Using, Growing and Storing Saffron

Using, Growing and Storing Saffron
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Saffron is a unique spice that is costly yet since so little is used in dishes you don't need to keep much on hand. I've read comments from people who felt it didn't added as much flavor as they thought it would, considering the cost. This is probably due to the quality of the saffron they purchased. True saffron comes from collecting the stigmas of crocus sativus. You can buy it as threads or as a powder. Often safflower is substituted, it's sometimes known as Mexican or American saffron, and the flavor is no where near the same though the color is similar. Saffron threads should have an orange tip. If not, they may be dyed, so avoid them. If you can find out a coloring strength of what you are buying, you'll want it to be at least 220, which is a good strength.
If you cannot find true saffron then you can use turmeric instead in recipes. It's often known as Indian saffron, and has a strong flavor, so not much is needed. The color will not be as deep, but it's really the flavor you should be looking for, not the color.

How do you use saffron threads? There a couple of methods you can use to get the most flavor. You can add the threads to hot liquid that is going to be used in the recipe and steep the threads for at least 20 minutes. Then add the liquid and saffron as directed in the recipe. You can also lightly (VERY important not to scorch the threads) toast saffron in a frying pan for a few minutes. Then crush them to a powder and add to your dish as is, or steep as mentioned above. If you buy saffron powder you can use 1/8 tsp. powder when it calls for 1 tsp. of threads.


There are different types of saffron--but the key is no yellow. It's been known that some companies will use the yellow stamens to increase weight but they have no flavor--good saffron may be orange, or even red but not yellow. If you see saffron labeled as Turkish, American or Mexican saffron it is not true saffron and will create the color but not the flavor. Also a note- saffron gives a yellow color to dishes when used, even though the saffron itself should not be yellow. Powdered saffron does not have to soaked, though some cooks still do this to squeeze out every bit of flavor into their dish.

Saffron can be used in rice dishes, breads, puddings, couscous, soups, stews and desserts. The following recipes will give you an idea of how to use saffron.

Sweet Saffron Bread


3 teaspoons sugar

1 package dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water

1/4 cup soft butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

3/4 teaspoon saffron

3/4 cup hot water

6 cups flour

1/2 cup seeded raisins

1/4 cup currants

1/4 cup almonds -- chopped

Blend 3 teaspoons sugar and yeast in a small bowl. Add the lukewarm water and allow the yeast to dissolve. Cream butter and sugar and salt in a large bowl. Pour the milk over creamed mixture, stirring until smooth. Add saffron to hot water and let stand 10 minutes. Strain the saffron and stir the infused water into the creamed mixture. Add the yeast and sugar water. Stir until smooth. Sift 3 cups of flour. Blend 1 cup of the flour with the raisins, currants and almonds in a bowl, until coated. Add to the dough and mix well. Add the rest of the flour and knead with your finger tips on a board until very smooth. Place dough in a large bowl, cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for 2 hours or until doubled in bulk. Cut dough in half and knead each half on a lightly floured board. Form into loaves and place each in a buttered, lightly floured loaf pan (9×5×3). Let rise again in a warm location for 1 hour or until doubled in size. Bake in a preheated 300º oven 45 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool. Makes 2 loaves.

Saffron Tea


3 cups water

1-1/2 cups whole milk

12 saffron threads

2 cardamom seeds, crushed

6 green or black tea bags

4 tsp. granulated sugar

Soak the saffron for a few minutes in a small amount of warm water, and rub with your fingers until the water darkens. Heat this saffron water, 3 cups water, milk, and the cardamom in a pot until it comes to a boil. Simmer for 5 minutes then add the tea bags and boil for a few more minutes. Strain into four teacups and sweeten with sugar.

Parsnip Puree


1 pinch saffron threads

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

4 parsnips, peeled and cubed

2 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup half and half or cream

Add the saffron to the lemon juice and allow it steep as the parsnips cook. Cover parsnips with water to cover in sauce pan and cook until tender. Drain parsnips and combine with remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. You can also use a blender. Blend until smooth, scraping down sides if necessary. Serve warm.

Basic Saffron Rice


1/8 teaspoon powdered saffron

2 cups boiling water, divided

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice, (do not rinse)

1 teaspoon salt

Steep the saffron in 1/2 cup boiling water. Meanwhile, in a skillet (with a tightly fitting cover) melt the butter over medium-high heat. Stir in the rice and salt. Cook, stirring constantly, until the rice begins to absorb the butter and becomes opaque. DO NOT brown the rice. Quickly pour in the remaining 1 1/2 cups boiling water along with the saffron water. Cover immediately and reduce the heat to low. Cook 20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Do not remove the lid while the rice is cooking.

NOTES: This is a good basic recipe with a mild flavor. Good for topping with seafood or shrimp. You can jazz up the recipe even further by adding one or more of these ingredients:

1 tsp. cumin seeds (sautéed with the rice in first step)

1 inch Cinnamon stick (removed before serving)

3 cardamom pods, crushed

3-4 whole cloves (removed before serving)

1/2 tsp. Black Peppercorns (remove before serving or grind beforehand)

1-2 cup frozen or freshly cooked green peas

chicken or vegetable stock instead of water

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About The Author

Brenda Hyde is a freelance writer living on ten acres in rural Michigan with her husband and three kids. She is a mom, grandma, gardener, cook and writer. She blogs on all of these topics at


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