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7. Safflower is a less expensive grade of saffron.

The botanical name for safflower is Carthamus tinctorius. The botanical name for saffron is Crocus sativus. They are two completely different plants with no relation to one another. It is unfortunate that safflower is also referred to as azafran (Spanish for saffron), American Saffron and Dyer's Saffron. This makes it even more important for you to know saffron's botanical name. There are different grades of saffron but every grade comes from Crocus sativus.

8. There is saffron and there is true saffron. True saffron is what you should buy.

True saffron is an oxymoron. Anything which originated from the stigmas of the Crocus sativus plant is saffron and does not need to be called true saffron.

9. The best way to showcase saffron is in a variety of white rice based dishes.

Although I have been very fortunate in sampling great examples of the most famous saffron rice dishes - Spanish Paella (New YorkCity/Argentina/Spain), Risotto Milanese (Italy), Iranian *** (San Francisco) and Arroz con Pollo (Argentina/Miami/New York City), these dishes are no more impressive than many, many others which feature saffron (see basic tips ).
Labeling saffron as an ingredient for rice dishes is like limiting your use of fresh basil for pesto only. It takes time to find a saffron vendor who is knowledgeable about saffron but it's well worth the effort. When I was educating myself I asked lots and lots of questions and was willing to sample lots and lots of product before I settled into my current buying/using pattern. I had no special advantage that you do not have. A saffron vendor should be able to provide information about the coloring strength of his/her saffron to you, the buyer. Excellent, affordable saffron is rarely available in American supermarkets, Indian spice shops or natural food stores.

Affordability: If I want to cook and bake with saffron regularly, I buy it by the ounce. I should not have to pay more than $36 for an ounce of quality saffron powder or threads. At $36 an ounce, I will spend only a few cents on saffron per serving, per recipe. According to international regulations, a saffron coloring strength above 190 degrees is desirable, since 190 is the minimum, not the maximum standard. If good saffron is stored airtight, away from light, it has the longest shelf life of any culinary ingredient I know of.

Saffron powder is easier and faster to work with than the threads.

Measuring: It does not take long to figure out how much saffron to use in any given recipe if you trust your own judgement rather than recipe directions.

So where do I buy my saffron?
From the same purveyor who was sampling that German saffron bread at a dessert show in San Francisco 13 years ago! I have looked for alternatives, believe me. As an investigative reporter, writer, cook and baker I want to find and use the best saffron available anywhere. Period. This has nothing to do with loyalty to a single vendor. Vanilla, Saffron Imports in San Francisco has been in the saffron import business for more than 20 years but there are other U.S.-based saffron vendors who have been selling saffron for much longer. The question is who has been selling excellent saffron the longest? Through 1994, the saffron I used was Spanish. In 1995 I was introduced to saffron from Macedonia in Northern Greece. I was so amazed by this Greek saffron that shortly after I started working with it I made a trip to the Macedonian saffron harvest and the saffron cooperative headquartered in the town of Krocus (the Greek name for saffron). This Greek saffron is the best saffron I have ever worked with and has a coloring strength of 256, verified by laboratory reports, which is 45 points higher than the minimum international standard for all saffron.

As long as you are willing to buy your saffron by the ounce, the Golden Gate Brand Greek saffron I use is available to you. I have not seen this Greek saffron for sale elsewhere in the U.S. but that doesn't mean someone else is selling it. Judging by poor quality Greek saffron I bought in Athens, it is important to buy Greek saffron from the cooperative in Krokus which maintains strict standards for all saffron farmers. If the farmers do not meet those requirements, the cooperative does not buy their saffron.

In the U.S. saffron is definitely still a fringe spice. Many supermarkets refuse to carry it because their spice buyers claim it is a high theft item. At the prices the supermarkets generally charge for saffron, this is not surprising. How often have you attempted to buy saffron in a supermarket only to be told to go see the manager because the saffron is locked in his/her office or in a safe? In investigating saffron's general availability, I have had this experience numerous times. This does not help encourage Americans to become familiar with saffron.

Accessibility and affordability are generally at the top of everyone's wish list for any product. Fortunately, there are many other sources for saffron in the U.S. - food/herb/nursery/spice catalogs, ethnic shops, gourmet shops, large chains specializing in international foodstuff imports, delis, cookware stores, chain department store specialty food sections, etc. Still, saffron remains underutilized and underappreciated by the majority of Americans and, I suspect, much of the rest of the world's population.

The quantity you buy saffron in will determine your per serving cost and can make a big difference in terms of your per gram cost. The vast majority of consumers purchase saffron by the quarter, half and full gram because they are unaware that they can purchase it in five gram, half ounce (approx. 14 grams) and full ounce weights. When you are starting out, it makes sense that you would not want to invest $36 in an ounce as I do, even if you were splitting that ounce with a couple of friends. I would encourage you to never buy less than a gram at a time, however, because it is at a one-gram weight that saffron becomes really affordable, at least in ethnic markets. Don't ever expect to find affordable saffron in the supermarket. Supermarkets, at least in the U.S., simply don't sell enough saffron to encourage spice buyers and store managers to make it affordable. The supermarket spice buyer's assumption seems to be that saffron should be expensive. It's just a numbers game so you should refuse to play it. There are plenty of other places for you to purchase saffron. Once you are comfortable working with saffron, do switch to buying by the half or full ounce because you will be assured of a long shelf life (if you have demanded a quality product) and you will be paying one to two thirds less, per gram. That translates into many more delectable saffron experiences because you will not be intimidated about using saffron often once you find it affordable!

Evaluating Saffron Quality

In both thread and powder form, saffron has been adulterated for as long as we have known it existed. In 14th century Germany, any vendor caught selling an adulterated version of saffron was burned at the stake, along with his false saffron. Eye balling a commercial package of saffron just doesn't work. For one thing, most of the saffron sold by the ounce in the U.S. come sealed in tin boxes surrounded by a wrapper. For another, most people don't even know what to look for and even experts disagree on the subject. The Swiss-based International Standard Organization (ISO), which sets standards for many different products sold on the world market including spices, requires a minimum of 190 degrees of coloring strength to be present in any saffron to be sold as Category I, the highest quality available.

In practical kitchen terms, you want to be using the best quality saffron available so that your cost per use remains low and the resulting dish has all the possible saffron aroma and flavor as well as color. The better the saffron, the less you use per recipe. What most people think of when they hear the word saffron is a brilliant, egg yolk yellow color. What very few people realize, however, is that saffron's coloring strength is tied directly to its aroma and flavor potential. The higher the coloring strength, the more intense the flavor and aroma. So even if you don't give a hoot about saffron's ability to color your bread or soup yellow, you surely care about the flavor and aroma it imparts to both. Saffron's aroma enveloping a kitchen is really appealing. When I am working hard at recipe development, I consider saffron's aroma enveloping my kitchen a great reward for my efforts.

Saffron's coloring strength is defined as its ability to saturate a specific quantity of water with its yellow dye. The lab test is called photospectometry. During my regular lectures to freshmen at the California Culinary Academy I always say they would create a revolution in saffron exporting/importing and use in the U.S., perhaps the world, if they would ask their saffron vendor one simple question: "What is the coloring strength of this saffron you want to sell me?" Until enough of us who actually use saffron begin demanding a quality product at a reasonable price from those who import and sell the spice, the average person can expect to continue spending too much for saffron and saffron will continue to be underutilized.

The Icons below will guide you to the other Saffron Pages : Pages 5 - 10 are Recipe Pages

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