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Scintillating saffron recipes

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Saffron: The spice with mystique

As the most expensive spice on the market, saffron asserts an unparalleled exotic flavor in every recipe it graces. Though saffron has an affinity for seafood and chicken recipes, this heady spice can make even dessert an extra-special occasion. Here are three saffron recipes that will light up your senses.

saffron


What makes saffron so special?

Saffron may be the priciest spice in the spice aisle, but its unique flavor makes it worth every dollar. Best yet, because it has such a potent flavor, color and aroma, a little pinch goes a long way. Saffron is expensive because its brilliant red threads are the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus flower, which are literally hand-picked.

saffron
It takes 75,000 blossoms, or 225,000 hand-picked stigmas, to make a single pound of saffron.

Saffron's history

According TheEpicentre.com, saffron has been revered for centuries. In Greek mythology, the handsome mortal Crocos fell in love with the beautiful nymph Smilax; she rebuffed him, turning him into a beautiful purple crocus flower. In the eighth century, Muslims introduced saffron to Spain, which is now its main exporter. Saffron was used to scent the baths and public halls of imperial Rome. Pliny wrote that saffron was the most frequently falsified commodity -- a fact that has been true throughout history.

buyer, beware

Because of saffron's price, it is often adulterated with dried calendula or marigold. To be sure you're getting pure saffront, buy it in small quantities from a reputable gourmet spice purveyor. Purchase only if the threads are bright red; dull or discolored threads indicate age.

Culinary uses

When you open a saffron jar, the dark honey-like aroma alone is enough to make you take notice. The saffron threads really come to life, however, when you steep them in hot water -- which is the best way to evenly infuse a dish with the spice's pungent flavor and brilliant hue. You can also crush the threads into a powder with a mortar and pestle, but steeping them in water (or even wine or broth) intensifies saffron's exotic flavor.

Popular in Mediterranean, Moorish, Asian and English cuisines, saffron fits especially well in seafood, chicken, rice and pasta recipes, but you can add it to breads, cakes and even ice cream, too. One taste of this exquisite spice will be enough to inspire you to find your own favorite culinary uses.

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