Saffron is likely the most expensive spice in the world. It is prized for the rich golden color its red threads give to rice dishes, sauces, and other foods, and for its exotic aroma and the deep earthy wonderful flavor it imparts. But why so pricey? Saffron threads are the tiny stigmas of the saffron flower, crocus sativus. It takes about 2-1/2 pounds of these delicate purple flowers to produce less than a half ounce of dry saffron threads. Or, in more visual terms, “to glean 1 lb of dry saffron requires the harvest of 50,000–75,000 flowers; Forty hours of labour are needed to pick 150,000 flowers. Stigmas are dried quickly upon extraction and (preferably) sealed in airtight containers. Saffron prices at wholesale and retail rates range from US$500 to US$5,000 per pound.” (Courtesy wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saffron). I have heard that Kashmiri and Spanish saffron are the best quality and have always purchased Spanish saffron at the Indian market. The last time I purchased it was about 8 years ago, when I still had my Yogi Eats catering company in Los Angeles. I bought a big 1-ounce tin, probably for around $50, and still have at least half of it left. One ounce today, depending on variety and quality, may cost you anywhere from $50 to $300. But don’t let that scare you away! You would probably not use a whole ounce of saffron in a lifetime. You will usually use only a pinch of threads at a time. You can purchase 1 gram of saffron for under $10 and that should be plenty for occasional use. Keep your saffron stored in an airtight container without any exposure to light; this will ensure its intense flavor and color are preserved and that the threads do not deteriorate. As I said, I’ve had mine for years. I am no aficionado, but it seems quite fine to me.
Saffron is used in many ayurvedic remedies. Yogi Bhajan shared at least several recipes using saffron… Saffron rice made with saffron soaked in whole milk, cooked with garlic and almonds, and “Golden Figs”, where the same saffron milk is injected into fresh figs; both recipes are for male potency and vitality. In Ayurveda, saffron is known, among other things, to be an aphrodisiac and to give radiance to the body.
I have tried adding a pinch of saffron to cooking rice before setting it to steam. However, the color and flavor are not released as well as when the threads are soaked. I did not hear Yogi Bhajan explain why it must soak in milk, but by my knowledge and experience I feel this is essential. Whole milk (non-homogenized, and boiled) is one of the most “sattvic” (high vibration promoting healthy body, mind and spirit) foods. It has the quality to carry the benefits of other ingredients into the blood stream. This is one of the reasons why Golden Milk and Golden Yogurt are best made with whole cow or goat milk (or if you have access, fresh sheep milk or water buffalo milk). Saffron is also highly sattvic and is also used in remedies and spiritual ceremonies. That said, you can use a non-dairy milk, but I feel it’s important for you to know the yogic teachings, if you are practicing a yogic lifestyle and diet.
My next post will include at least one recipe using saffron… a wonderful pilau I made a few weeks ago with basmati rice, saffron, mushrooms, and other delightful ingredients. It was truly delicious, simply beautiful, and a pleasure to prepare. Stay tuned!