Monday, March 16, 2015

Why is saffron so expensive?

Spanish Saffron

A key ingredient for Spanish cooking is saffron.  It creates the earthy flavor and yellow color in Spanish paella. (It is also used in Italian risotto Milanese, Indian curries and the French seafood stew bouillabaisse.)

So, I bit the bullet and bought some at Wegman's.  I knew it was going to be expensive, but $500/ounce seems crazy!

I spent $17.99 to get .06 ounces (1.7g) for this month's exploration into Spanish cooking as an investment in learning something new.

I felt the same way when I ponied up for matcha powder during Japan month, but I was glad I did.  I would never have discovered Green Tea Financiers if I hadn't.

Sometimes I have trouble spending money on something that seems extravagant, so I remind myself how much it costs to be in college these days.  $17.99 is spent in a few minutes.  So, why am I hesitating in investing in my own education?  After all, I pride myself in being a lifelong learner.

(Photos,thanks to Wikipedia)

Saffron are the stigmas (the female portion of the flower --- the three red threads in the photo above) of a cultivated crocus.  Crocus are those tiny little flowers which come up from bulbs in spring.  But the ones we can harvest for saffron bloom in the fall.

So, why is saffron so expensive?

  • It is a labor intensive process to harvest.  The threads are hand-picked and it has to be done in the morning just after they have bloomed.
  • There are only three threads per plant! So, it takes a lot of flowers to create even a pinch of saffron.  

Saffron from different producer countries, picked and dried in different ways gives rise to different end qualities.  Spanish is one of the best.

According to Penzey's Spices, there are roughly 450-500 saffron stigmas, or threads, to a gram of spice, which is about 1/24 of an ounce. It only takes a pinch to color and flavor a normal recipe to serve 4 to 6.

The good news is a little goes a long way.


P.S.  I was curious about growing it.  And White Flower Farms says "Yes, you can. (Zones 6-8)"  and offers saffron crocus bulbs for the home gardener.

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