Iran is the largest saffron producer in the world and there is no scent more evocative of the Iranian kitchen than saffron’s sweet, earthy, aroma.
Famously heralded as the world’s most expensive spice, saffron is worth more by weight than gold.
This is due to its incredibly labour intensive production which takes place during the brief saffron harvest in late autumn that lasts just 10-12 days. During this time each saffron crocus flower opens up to reveal its 3 saffron stems which are individually picked from each flower by hand.
Iranians have been using Saffron for thousands of years, not just in food but for medicines as well (it is purportedly good for depression, asthma, reproductive health and blood purification) and for aphrodisiacs and dyes.
In Iranian cooking saffron is used in a liquid form by grinding the stems into a fine powder and then soaking them in hot water. The results are spectacular, it yields a highly potent scarlet elixir which can transform a dish with just a few drops.
When buying saffron look for threads that are dark red. If the stems are orange, the saffron is likely to be of inferior quality. Try and source Iranian saffron if you can as it’s flavour and aroma is unmatched. You can buy it from most Middle Eastern stores on online from shops like Persepolis.
Preparing Liquid Saffron
I normally use a pestle and mortar for this but you can just as easily grind the saffron in a spice or coffee grinder. Just make sure all the grinding equipment is completely dry before you start. This is crucial, as the saffron won’t grind down if it gets wet. You can store any leftover ground saffron in an airtight container for a few weeks.
1. Put 1 tsp of saffron and a 1/4 tsp of sugar in a pestle and mortar and grind until it is a fine powder.
2. Place 1/4 teaspoon of ground saffron in a glass and add 50ml of hot water. Give the mixture a good stir and leave it to soak for at least 10mins before using.
Liquid saffron will keep for 2-3 days in the fridge.