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Saffron – The Topic


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Lalitha: Thanks for the saffron seminar. I like the sound of a dessert rice cooked in milk. Will try it. I've enjoyed trying new seasonings after reading about them on e-gullet. Everyone here seems so knowledgeable and helpful. lkm

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:biggrin:  :biggrin:

In other news, 'Treasure Bath' would be a great name for a soup.  I already have "Beef Bordello" (Think 'bordelaise') in the works, which incidentally calls for saffron!

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  • 1 year later...

My neighbour was kind enough to bring back some saffron for me after working in Azerbaijan for a while (he's a helicopter mechanic for oil rigs).

I had never actually tasted it before but have read all about it and was excited to try it out. I made saffron mashed potatoes. I figured the bland taste of the potatoes would allow the saffron flavour to come through. I steeped the saffron in some warm milk before adding it to the potatoes, was excited to see the yellow/orange colour appear and then taste - BLECHHH! It was so bitter and tinny! Did I do something wrong? Does saffron not taste good on its own? What about saffron cakes? Fish with saffron sauce? Is it an acquired taste? Anyone with a recipe that actually uses saffron and tastes good?

Susan NS

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Are you sure you have saffron and not turmeric? In India they sometimes use the term interchangeably. Is it a powder or thin pistil threads? If it's the real thing, you might try it on rice instead of potatoes.

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That's really too bad. Saffron has a very distinctive flavor, and perhaps it may be an acquired taste, but bitter and tinny shouldn't be the dominant flavors. I don't know anything about Azerbaijan saffron, but could it be possible that it wasn't very good quality, or somehow adulterated?

The best saffron is said to come from Spain. If you want a reality check on your saffron, I would recommend (1) visiting a decent Indian or Spanish restaurant and ordering a saffron dish (biryani or paella) or (2) giving a knowlegable friend (or a local restaurant) a portion to test for you.

Generally, a little bit of saffron goes a long way.

He who distinguishes the true savor of his food can never be a glutton; he who does not cannot be otherwise. --- Henry David Thoreau
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I love saffron. I used it several times over the weekend You could either add the pistils directly to what you are making or you can grind them. I don't see any problem with what you did by adding it to the milk. Saffron is not bitter. It has a wonderful floral taste that is aromatic and slightly sweet. I particularly like it with seafood. I used it with a butter braised lobster on NYE and with scrambled eggs along with tarragon on New Year's morning.

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I don't think steeping in warm milk would be as good as hot stock or hot water.

But the milk should have absolved any bitterness, so the product may be suspect.

A well meaning relative brought me several pounds of green Costa Rican coffee beans, but I was never able to get a bitter taste out of them...

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Are you sure you have saffron and not turmeric?  In India they sometimes use the term interchangeably.  Is it a powder or thin pistil threads?  If it's the real thing, you might try it on rice instead of potatoes.

I've used a lot of tumeric in recipes and never noticed it taste particularly bitter or tinny. It has an earthy taste.

How much did you use?

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Any of several factors might be at play.

You might have overdosed the saffron. Like lavender, a little goes a long way. And when the threshold is exceeded the results can be exceedingly unpleasant and, yes, bitter: "The bitter taste is attributed to picrocrocin, the glucoside of an alcohol structurally related to safranal (4-hydroxy-2,4,4-trimethyl 1-cyclohexene-1-carboxaldehyde )" (source: Gernot Katzer's Spice Page, linked to below). Also, "saffron is characterised by a bitter taste and a hay-like fragrance; these are caused by the chemicals picrocrocin and safranal" (source: Wikipedia's saffron article). By the way, another name for picrocrocin is bitter crocin.

Your saffron could be old, in which case the perfumy components will have disappeared, leaving only a tinny, bitter taste.

Your friend may have brought back safflower aka bastard saffron, which is said to be used in that part of the world (compare with true saffron).

Before you declare yourself a saffron hater, you might want to buy a small vial of Spanish saffron with a best before date and give it a go. Just be sure to use it with restraint.

Edited by carswell (log)
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It's true, you might not have true saffron, but it is just as likely that you just used a bit too much. Saffron DOES have a bitter, and somewhat metallic taste if you are too generous with it. Use it judiciously, though, and docsconz is correct, it has a floral, aromatic, sweet and completely sensual flavor. The first time my daughter cooked alone, she decided to use (ACK! I don't want to say what they cost!) a baggie of pistils in the rice (maybe 1/8 oz), and she remarked on the 'metallic' taste. Try it again, use just a bit. Your potatoes shouldn't become vividly orange, just lightly tinged with yellow. Also, you may find that using garlic along with the saffron enhances the flavor for you. I make a saffron pasta with at least a dozen pistils tossed in at the end, to a pound of pasta.I add 5 cloves of crushed garlic and a good sprinking of kosher salt as well. It's pretty good, but the use of fats and cheeses is also considerable. :smile:

edited because judicious was written when I was THINKING delicious and I spelled it accordingly!(Well, my white bean soup IS delicious, I used leftover barbecued beef ribs for flavoring) :wub:

Edited by Rebecca263 (log)

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For many years after my first taste of Saffron my thought was ...it tasted the way the school nurse's office smelled.

I like it now, I just dont think the Velvet Turtle was a very good restaurant, at least not for a 12 yr old

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Saffron does taste medicinal. My Iranian friend taught me to wrap it in a scrap of foil and wave it over the gas (or a hot stove) for a few seconds, till dry and crumbly (but don't let it burn, all too easy to do!). Then crumble it into your hot milk.

However, it is an unusual taste and easy to overdo. A tiny pinch of stamens is normally enough.

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I'm not a big fan of saffron and I've purchased it on many occasions from reliable sources. I did start off using quite a bit of it, causing a bad first impression, but even using it in miniscule amounts, the taste doesn't send me soaring. I will second Rebecca's recommendation to combine it with garlic. If a dish doesn't combine it with garlic, I won't go near it.

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I, too, remain ambivalent about saffron - neither liking it particularly nor disliking it. My response when I first tasted it was, "What is the big fuss about?"

And wouldn't you know - I received two gifts of top quality saffron for Christmas - one Spanish and one Iranian.

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Agreed with the little-goes-a-long-way philosophy.

I am particularly fond of saffron with dairy these days. A favorite Indian restaurant makes versions of kheer (rice pudding) and vermicelli pudding featuring saffron that are magnificent- it's rich and nurturing, delicate and floral at once. I haven't tried duplicating any at home yet but if I did I would think the inclusion of rose water as well would play off the saffron quite nicely.

My own experience has been to use it in my attempts at making paella or tajines, and I don't think they would be the same without it even in tiny amounts.

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I'm not sure what the saffron tastes like that comes from the crokus flowers that grow in Azerbaijan, but the really good stuff comes from Spain.

Personally I like a lot of saffron, Rachel not so much. We use "Superior" grade saffron from Spain, its the second highest grade you can acquire -- the highest is Mancha.

Saffron goes particularly well with rice, espcially when soaked in chicken stock and used as the cooking liquid. Paella and Arroz con Pollo are the two dishes for really benchmarking Saffron.

In South American cultures Achiote is used as a substitute for Saffron in dishes that call for it, some people actually like it better.

Jason Perlow

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Saffron is wonderful in Spanish seafood stews and especially good in mussel soup with cream. I think it takes on a slightly different personality in Indian / Middle Eastern dishes where it is more in the background and somehow more closely related to the other spices. I know it is described as slightly bitter, but I find it to be more sharp tannic, with a fragrance that gets you in the nose and an ever so slightly musty headiness.

I too have found the Spanish saffron to be the most potent, although I can pick up the Iranian variety fairly cheaply in a Middle Eastern shop near me. The packaging is generally covered in a tinted (red or orange) plastic wrap to keep out the sunlight which will speed up deterioration. My mother once brought back a sizeable bag of it from Israel, but it was a ruse, and barely coloured the liquid, not alone had any flavour to impart. Obviously the fake one!

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I think the best saffron comes from Iran. I bought some in Istanbul and prefer it over the saffron I bought in Spain.

You could easily be right. To be honest, I'm not well enough informed to profess the benefits of one over the other... I hope I didn't sound pedantic. And in fairness... the Iranian saffron I've bought has been inexpensive, whereas the Spanish saffron was picked up on a trip there earlier in the year.

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I think the best saffron comes from Iran. I bought some in Istanbul and prefer it over the saffron I bought in Spain.

You could easily be right. To be honest, I'm not well enough informed to profess the benefits of one over the other... I hope I didn't sound pedantic. And in fairness... the Iranian saffron I've bought has been inexpensive, whereas the Spanish saffron was picked up on a trip there earlier in the year.

There are different grades of saffron. I am sure that there is some excellent Spanish saffron, but the one I bought, which wasn't cheap was not as good as the Iranian saffron I bought for about the same price.

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I think you need to go to a reputable vendor to get good Spanish saffron. We buy ours from a Spanish importer in Newark, NJ, and buy a whole tin at a time, for about $40.

gallery_2_4_40939.jpg

This is a picture of the tin that we use. Immediately after opening the tin you get hit with a very intense saffron aroma.

EDIT: Its a one ounce tin.

Jason Perlow

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Saffron is OK. It makes stuff yellow and it has an unusual taste.

However, owing to it's expense, an air of majesty and mystery has grown up around it.

Let's face it, it's good, but not that good.

P.S. For interest, I have been told that the best stuff comes from Kashmir...

http://www.saffronspecialist.co.uk/Informa...miriHistory.htm

Edited by fatmat (log)
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