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james 05-12-2007 04:20 AM

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There are a couple of very good recipes for Risotto in the FB Wood-Fired Cooking e-Book, which rely on saffron for color and flavor, so I thought I would post a little background and see what everyone is using at home. I took a few photos of what we have (Spanish), along with a good powdered version.

Saffron is the stigma (little stems) inside a specific type of crocus. I think it is indiginous to the middle east (Iran?), and it has been part of Mediderranean food for centuries. It's a major part of Paella, and saffron Risotto is a classic Italian dish. The crocus naturalized in San Gimignano in the middle ages, and the city now has a saffron festival every year -- and local gardens have the crocus. Our first rental house had a nice garden and the wonderful lady who looked after it plucked and dried her own saffron.

You only get 3 stigma per flower, and you have to gently pull them out. No wonder it's the world's most expensive spice. Luckily, a little goes a long way.

I've tasted saffron from Spain, Italy, India and Iran. There are great saffron displays in the great bazaar in Istanbul, where they have a wide range of types. The Iranian saffron costs more, and the merchants all said it was the best, but it was a little too dusty for me, and I still like Spanish. One cool thing was that a friend and I bought enough stuff from the spice market that he gave us a sample of Iranian caviar that was incredible.

Here in the land of risotto, all of the supermarkets carry a brand of powdered saffron. It's pure saffron, but my guess is that it is the small broken pieces, so it probably isn't perfect. It's like the tea they hide in an English tea bag compared with the perfect tea you can buy loose. Still, it is different from the Spanish "paella spice" mix that is mostly Tumeric.

You can find good Spanish saffron at Trade Joe's in CA.

Where does everyone find it? Is to expensive? Still, it's really worth it. A risotto with carnaroli rice, good saffron and real parmesan (and a couple of Tbs of Danish butter) is truly great.


janprimus 05-23-2007 11:27 AM

Re: Saffron
I have purchased my saffron from Here is their selection.
Spices at Penzeys Spices Saffron they have 2 Spanish varieties and one from India. I use the Indian one and it is lovely. It would be interesting to sometime do a taste test with the different saffrons.

DrakeRemoray 05-23-2007 12:40 PM

Re: Saffron
I have purchased saffron online from
Welcome to Vanilla Saffron Imports

I purchased the powdered mainly because you can add it directly to what you are cooking. For threads you are supposed to dissolve them first in broth or hot water.

I have also purchased Vanilla and Mushrooms from this same site. Very very satisfied.

Here is a page from their site that I like Vanilla, Saffron, Imports | Saffron: The Consumer Guide to Purchasing Saffron


james 05-23-2007 01:53 PM

Re: Saffron
Nice find Drew,

I wonder how much the pile of Saffron in their photo weighed. A lifetime supply? We make risotto a couple of times a week, and I can't quite picture getting through that.

If you mix both powder and 5-10 threads in stock and let it rest while you are cooking, you get a nice mix of color and flavor. And you can still see the threads in the dish.


BrianShaw 08-15-2007 06:42 AM

Re: Saffron
I recently bought something marked 'saffron' in my local Aisian market. I believe it was imported from China. I can't remember how much I paid, but it was something like $1.50 for 4 oz. I know it is not the real thing but not sure what it is. It gives good color but not a true saffron taste. I seem to recall, but can't remember where I heard/read this, that marigold stigmas are sometimes used in Chinese and Philipino cooking as a saffron substitute.

Archena 08-15-2007 05:43 PM

Re: Saffron
And for those of us who are incredibly cheap - and like crocus - there's grow your own:

Detailed information on Saffron Crocus Crocus sativus

Unofornaio 08-15-2007 10:13 PM

Re: Saffron
Cheap? did some one say cheap?
Thats how I did it. I started out with a few bulbs from an on line seed company I think it was but they are all over the net. The plants are almost no effort and even if every bulb doesn't produce a flower each year (sometimes you will just get the stems) in a few years you will have enough to keep you going indefinitely.

James- add it to the to-do list of for the new house, heck out here we can even grow them in a pot.

I will second the Trader Joe's. They have a lot of really nice stuff there. Every year I send my mom (in PA) a couple of packages of the fresh baby artichokes. Mmm lightly battered and fried up yummy, they would go good with the saffron risotto.

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