Saffron 101

Food is an important part of culture. I recently read a great article that asked whether meat consumption is a necessary part of “culture.” Since most cultures eat meat, the passing down of culture through food is often through the flavors, the spices, the cooking methods and the memories – not the meat itself. 

In Persian cooking, I think it’s the saffron, the turmeric, the cinnamon, the cardamom, the dried limes, the herbs, the nuts, the dried fruit, the pomegranate, the rose water, the cooking methods that make the food. Meat is often a sidekick, not the MVP. 

In fact, I enjoy trying the myriad of meat substitutes in Persian Khoresh (stews) from mushrooms to artichokes, to jackfruit to legumes. Even for kabob, we have marinated and seasoned with Persian flavors a variety of meat substitutes from Beyond Beef to the Impossible Burger.

I believe Iranian food is an important part of Iranian culture, but what makes Iranian food Iranian are the flavors, the spices, and the cooking methods. Saffron is the true queen of Persian cooking. 👑

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, and it is a staple in Iranian cuisine. The high cost is because the saffron threads are the actual stigma of a particular flower that must be harvested by hands. A single flower produces just three saffron threads. Iran is responsible for 90% of the world’s production of saffron.

Despite its high price, a pinch of saffron goes a long way. Saffron releases its flavor and aroma when wet. Our recipes on the blog generally call for “Brewed Saffron.”

To prepare “Brewed Saffron” take a big pinch or two of saffron threads. Grind the threads using a mortal and pestle. Add 1/2 tsp. ground saffron to 1/2 cup hot water. Cover and let it steep for 30 minutes before using in your cooking. The remaining brewed saffron may be stored in the refrigerator for one month (though we generally finish it before then).

The saffron threads should be stored in an airtight container in a dry, cool place. Saffron does not expire but loses its flavor over time. Be aware that saffron can stain so be careful with your clothing while cooking. An apron is advised! Also, it is best to buy saffron from a specialty store such as a Persian or Indian store. Good quality saffron is a deep red color. Happy cooking!