Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Crocus Sativus - producer of saffron, the most expensive spice in the world

Crocus Sativus - this delicate little autumn bloom is the producer of saffron, the most expensive spice in the world.

Sure the bright orange-red stigma is striking against the lavender petals of the crocus, but why all the fuss? Consider the many uses:
  • Cooking - candies, liquors, breads, desserts, Spanish paella, and other food from practically every culture. Personally, I love saffron because it is used in many of my favorite Indian dishes.
  • Medicinal - cancer suppressant properties, antioxidant, antidepressant, mutation suppressant properties, protects the eyes, and general healing. Saffron has been linked to the healing of over 90 illnesses!
  • Other purposes - fabric dye, perfumery, general food coloring.

Believe it...

  • Saffron's history reaches back 4000 years.
  • One pound of saffron requires 50,000 to 75,000 flowers - the growing area equivalent to a football field.
  • One pound of saffron would cost between 500-5000 US dollars depending on the grade (color, taste, and fragrance).

Growing information:

  • Plant new bulbs in the very early autumn for bloom around October. To begin with, try planting about 2 dozen.
  • Crocus sativus will thrive in full sun, with loose well-watered and well-drained soil (what wouldn't??).
  • Bloom period is about 1-2 weeks.

To harvest the precious little threads:

  • Be sure to catch the blossoms when they open. Most blooms will last one day and will wilt as the day passes.
  • Pluck the 3 orange-red stigmas in the center of the crocus sometime in the mid-morning on a sunny day when the bloom is fully opened.
  • Let air dry then store in an air-tight container.

To use the most expensive spice in the world:

  • Steep about 1 teaspoon saffron in about 3 teaspoons of hot water or broth for about 2 hours.
  • Add both threads and steeping liquid early in the cooking or baking process.

IF, and this is a big IF, a cute little lavender flower doesn't appeal to you, IF you don't have a tiny patch of garden to plant some unassuming bulbs, IF you can't use a little extra color in October, and IF the process of harvesting your own very expensive spice from a very cheap bulb doesn't appeal to you, you could think about buying saffron at the store to try. Here are some tips:

  • Buy threads, not powdered saffron. The powder could be cut with turmeric, a cheap spice that imparts a similar color. It may be cheaper, but will require more to be used for the same flavor impact.
  • Sometimes saffron is dyed to give that red color cooks want. This is not good. You want to look for the real thing - the saffron thread should be red, but the tips should be slightly lighter in color.

Enjoy the color and fragrance of saffron in your favorite food tonight...


  1. Hi, just drop by to see your lovely blog. There is a lot of Indian dishes that requires this herb and as I could remember, it really makes a difference in the taste when this one is added.

  2. Thanks for the info! I have heard a lot about saffrons from recipe books. I didn't think I have tasted it knowingly. I might have taken food cooked with saffron. But I am not sure. Anyway, the flower looks pretty too. I also didn't know they have medicinal properties too. Happy harvesting saffrons Wendy!

  3. Hi Wendy~~ I don't know that I've ever tasted saffron. I know a bit about it from the Nichols Garden Nursery catalog. [Local mail order nursery.] It's not cheap. Obviously you know quite a bit; a very well written post.

  4. This is so cool - I've never used saffron and had no idea it came from a crocus. If I can find any of these, I might have to plant them. I know just the place. LOVE bulbs - they require so little care and maintenance.

  5. Wendy, can you imagine harvesting enough of this to last you a year. You would have a permenant bend in your back. I would like to try this next year in my garden, anything to extend the season.

  6. One recipe I'l like to try is saffron fried rice. At the moment, I don't know where to buy the saffron.

  7. Wendy,
    I am assuming they don't use saffron to make kraft macaroni and cheese?
    Good information, I will try to collect some if the rodents don't eat all the crocus.

  8. ooh, I bet most of us have had saffron without even realizing it! Not quite sure if Kraft is adding this to their mac and cheese though!

  9. OK, you've convinced me. crocus sativus is going on my bulb order for next year. thanks for the educational post.

  10. Good! I'm glad people who have not tried it, are going to! :)

    Autumn Belle - you will probably be able to find saffron in the spice aisle. I've seen it in a small vial inside a larger jar. I've also seen it in a little baggie inside a regular spice jar mixed right in with the other spice jars.

  11. Hellow Wendy,

    My father was seriously injured by decoites with fire arms and I'm busy in his treatment since about a month, so no blogging and/ any other activity since last full month......you were about to tag me with an Honest scrap award (wth reference to your comments on my blog on November4), what about that, please tell me in detail and pray for me to get back in normal life asap........have a nice day :)

  12. I grow these crocuses but have never collected the stigmas...they are expensive! Saffron rice...YUM!

    Great how-to post, Wendy ;)

  13. Had o idea that saffron came from this plant. Your information about it exhaustive. Great work. Thank you for your comment on my blog about desert plants. I agree that they don't look real. I have to see them growing to believe it.

  14. Hi Wendy, I love saffron and buy the threads. But after all those 'if" challenges I think I'll make the effort to get some bulbs. A word of warning: be careful or you'll dye your clothes inadvertently and not just the rice.

  15. Thanks ladies - I really appreciate your comments!

    A good thing to keep in mind catmint!

    Everyone please keep Hortist's Saif and his father in your thoughts.

  16. Oh my goodness, I have these growing in my front lawn. I should have collected the saffron!! Good to know.

  17. Where do you buy your bulbs from? Do you order online?


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