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Saffron – The Topic


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If saffron were cheap, would it be referred to in the same lofty tone? I, personally, think not.

I agree - tumeric has a great colour and flavour, yet where is the reverence?

But tumeric DOES NOT TASTE like saffron. It tastes like tumeric.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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If saffron were cheap, would it be referred to in the same lofty tone? I, personally, think not.

I agree - tumeric has a great colour and flavour, yet where is the reverence?

But tumeric DOES NOT TASTE like saffron. It tastes like tumeric.

yes... your point being?

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The Spanish revere saffron because its an integral part of their culture, it grows in that country, and so many of their dishes use it. That on top of the fact its a royal pain in the ass to cultivate and harvest makes it particularly revered. Turmeric is a commodity spice and food coloring used by a lot of different cultures. It's inane to compare the two.

Turmeric, by the way, is revered by Indians because its a very important spice for making curries and a lot of other things, in addition it has ritual use in the Hindu religion. They'd be pretty pissed if you took it away from them. It happens also to be one of the cheapest spices to cultivate.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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The Spanish revere saffron because its an integral part of their culture, it grows in that country, and so many of their dishes use it. Tumeric is a commodity spice and food coloring used by a lot of different cultures. It's inane to compare the two.

The comparison was on the basis of culinary value. I'm interested in the food bit - end product, on the plate and in the belly. Tumeric is without a doubt far more useful and important, yet is treated with comparative irreverence (I'm just using tumeric as an example, it could be any one of a multitude of flavourings that are of greater culinary significance than saffron)

Edited by fatmat (log)
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Scott, but the thing is, we don't have a world without saffron or a world without salt. We live in the world we live in.
If saffron were cheap, would it be referred to in the same lofty tone?

Salt is cheap and I speak of it loftily. So is bacon and pork fat.

By the way, there was a time when salt was NOT cheap. Entire empires, such as the ancient Lebanese sea traders and the entire port nation of Sicily was built on it. Same with black pepper.

Cinnamon certainly has a devoted following, but you don't get the same reverence for cinnamon that you find for saffron. And yet, within the bigger culinary picture, losing cinnamon would involve a far greater hit than losing saffron.

Tell that to the Spanish!!!

Canela es mas importante-

Seriously, I don't have a finger on the pulse of the Spanish people, but for the sake of argument, lets imagine a world without paprika vs. a world withous saffron. How would the Spanish approach that quandary? Would they pick paprika? I think so. Is paprika treated as reverently as saffron is? Nope.

I'm not trying to trash saffron, I'm just attempting to point out the possibility that it's public perception might be driven, to an extent, by it's cost and that there are quite a few other ingredients that are more indispensible and yet treated with less reverence.

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Okay, but again, we don't live on that planet and thankfully, the Spanish don't have to make those choices.

The dishes in which saffron is used in Spanish cuisine are ones which tend to be made on special occasions and seasonally -- paprika, however, is an everyday spice. So they have particular reverence for it because of that "special" use.

You could arguably make your same point about Caspian Sea caviar which recently was embargoed -- does Caspian Sea caviar have the same impact as world cuisine as Saffron does? Probably not. But its immensely expensive and its not a major component for any world cusine, and there are also other types of caviar. The same could be said for Perigord or Alba truffles as they are a superluxury ingredient and out of the reach of most regular people -- although the Italians and French would probably weep in eternal sorrow if those were to go away.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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I don't consider saffron a luxury ingredient. For me, it's an expensive necessity. Like you, I wouldn't think of making arroz con pollo without it. When I think of arroz con pollo, though, I don't think about how much I like the saffron in it. Everything plays a role. The onions, the garlic, the chicken, the peppers, the stock, the rice- each is a facet. Saffron is just one of many essential contributors. Take away one, any one, and it ceases to be arroz con pollo. I find this to be true for many of the environments where it's found- essential, but certainly not the crowning glory.

Saffron is a team player ingredient at a star price. It's a workhorse, not a prima donna.

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Interesting that Cook's Illustrated found the best saffron from Pennsylvania!

A few years ago I planted some fall crocus bulbs hoping to get a small crop, but the plants were eaten by unknown predators.

These were Iranian bulbs sold by a noted bulb purveyor, Cruickshank's in Toronto.

If I had another source, I'd try it again.

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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

Well, SusanNS, in just over 24 hours you have gotten more than 82 responses to your question. Did you find your answers? Was this post useful to you?

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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Interesting that Cook's Illustrated  found the best saffron from Pennsylvania!

A few years ago I planted some fall crocus bulbs hoping to get a small crop, but the plants were eaten by unknown predators.

Maybe it was Christopher Kimball done stole yer saffron, man.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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The mention of Pennsylvania saffron rang a bell; I seemed to recall reading positive comments about it several years ago. A little googling and voilà: the dogged pursuit of a single man, R. Martin Keen, who has been growing the flower in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, since 1985 and markets the stigmas under the M. & J. Greider Farm label. Annual harvest: about 2½ pounds.

The article I read was probably "The Midas Spice: from Flower to Saffron" by Amanda Hesser in the October 27, 1999, edition of the New York Times. Ms. Hesser characterizes the Pennsylvania spice as "terrific, as intense as the Persian, but much different. The filaments stained the water a deep orange, and the aroma was full and minerally, more austere than the Persian." She prefers both it and the Persian to the Spanish La Mancha. She also quotes Paula Wolfert enthusing over Greek and Persian saffron. Someone has thoughtfully archived the article on Geocities: click here or goggle the article's title.

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This thread prompted me to order an ounce of Iranian saffron from this company. Looks like a great deal. $35.95 ounce; free shipping; free 2 oz. bottle of pure vanilla extract; free bar of saffron soap  :blink:

That does sound like a good deal.

Iranian Saffron has a higher coloration strength than Spanish saffron -- it tastes a little different, not necessarily better, just different. I've had it in ice cream flavored with Saffron and rosewater, it adds a nice flavor to it.

I'll report back when I receive it. I've been meaning to order from that web site for quite some time.

It was already shipped! I just received UPS tracking info. I'm having dreams of arroz con pollo. :raz:

Ilene

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The mention of Pennsylvania saffron rang a bell; I seemed to recall reading positive comments about it several years ago. A little googling and voilà: the dogged pursuit of a single man, R. Martin Keen, who has been growing the flower in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, since 1985 and markets the stigmas under the M. & J. Greider Farm label. Annual harvest: about 2½ pounds.

i.e., its Unobtanium.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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The mention of Pennsylvania saffron rang a bell; I seemed to recall reading positive comments about it several years ago. A little googling and voilà: the dogged pursuit of a single man, R. Martin Keen, who has been growing the flower in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, since 1985 and markets the stigmas under the M. & J. Greider Farm label. Annual harvest: about 2½ pounds.

The article I read was probably "The Midas Spice: from Flower to Saffron" by Amanda Hesser in the October 27, 1999, edition of the New York Times. Ms. Hesser characterizes the Pennsylvania spice as "terrific, as intense as the Persian, but much different. The filaments stained the water a deep orange, and the aroma was full and minerally, more austere than the Persian." She prefers both it and the Persian to the Spanish La Mancha. She also quotes Paula Wolfert enthusing over Greek and Persian saffron. Someone has thoughtfully archived the article on Geocities: click here or goggle the article's title.

i don't know if it's this guy or another lancaster county farmer, but PA-grown saffron is available in the reading terminal market in the late summer from livengoods produce. i noticed it this summer and didn't buy any, but i may next year...

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I read up on saffron rather extensively a year or so ago, after being gifted with a quantity of it from two different individuals (on whose heads be blessings...). I can recall the Pennsylvanian saffron being mentioned in a few of those books, and I suspect that there are more growers than just the one. If memory serves, one book referenced a few Amish growers.

I have found the Iranian saffron, in general, to be more pungent and quicker to infuse than the Spanish. I tend to use the Spanish for long-cooking items, and the Iranian for hot beverages and quick-cooking dishes.

I know many people who are saffron enthusiasts, some few who really don't get excited about it either way, and a number who just don't like it at all. I think it may be one of those genetic-trigger things, like cilantro or truffles. If they don't do it for you, they just don't <shrug>.

More for the rest of us.

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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Just a thought on the value of saffron...

which would you pay more for, salt or saffron?

Is this a trick question?

really--saffron is expensive on a purely weight based cost.

In reality a very little goes a long way-- so on a pure per use cost it is well worth it (and not that expensive)--it is all relative.

As already noted here-saffron provides a unique flavor (it is not about the color only otherwise turmeric would be a valid substitute).

as with many things-one either enjoys the flavor of saffron or not.

for my taste-I can not imagine a paella (or a Milanese risotto) without good quality saffron--it is integral to these dishes.

No trick, just commenting on how folks wax lyrical about the great and glorious saffron, when it's ok, but not that great really. Seriously speaking, salt is far more valuable to me as an ingredient, and probably to most folks. I feel that saffron is regarded as a king of spices because of it's price, not it's worth.

Not a good comparison. Considering the amount that is used in a recipe, $40 an ounce is actually very economical. Salt and saffron are used for very different reasons in cooking (if saffron was mined out of the ground or purified from seawater, it would not be used as salt is), most of the worlds population may not miss saffron in their diet, unlike salt, but there are some dishes that it is important and a key flavour.

On an other issue, the amount that I use in cooking is not enough to give a strong yellow colour to the dish. The flalvour profile is certainly there (floral/metalic), but the final colour of the dish is more likely to be influenced by tomatoes for instance. How much do others use in their cooking.

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I also use it for specific dishes. I agree, Risotto Milanese would not be the same without saffron.

I do not use a significant amount. I only use four or five threads at a time. It depends on the dish. So my 1 ounce, lasts a long time.

I also use it when I make pannetone.

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This discussion reminds me a little of a discussion of caviar in which every category of fish roe, from lumpfish to Imperial caviar, would be mentioned without distinction, leading to some impossible dialogue between those who would argue that caviar was little more than disguised gunshot (who would be thinking of such things as lumpfish 'caviar') and those defending the concept of caviar as a supreme delicacy (the fortunate Imperial or beluga aficionados). Meaning: unless we all get on the same page and comment on the same product, we won't get anywhere near an agreement.

There is a lot of counterfeit or semi-counterfeit saffron out there, and at any rate powdered saffron should be cast aside automatically.

Top-notch, well-dried, pistils-only saffron is one of the world's greatest spices, and of course not just for color. Ask any Milanese denizen how a risotto made with turmeric differs from one that's been properly saffroned, or 'zafferanato'!

There are only two products in which Spain is the world leader, and one of the two has been recognized as the best for many centuries: saffron. (The other, cured Ibérico ham, was a well-kept secret outside Spain because it wasn't exported due to past African swine fever problems, until the name Joselito became world-famous - and if you haven't heard of Joselito, you're not 'with it' in the world of hams, as they would say in the 1960s!) My gourmet friend, the Indian publisher Cushrow Irani, considers getting a jar of Manchuela saffron his greatest priority when arriving in Spain, and he prizes top Spanish saffron above anything produced in Asia.

It's a matter of terroir, as in wine – the dry, hot high plateaus of Castile, with the very cool nights and the poor clay-limestone soils, produce the kind of flavor concentration that is hard to find elsewhere.

Manchuela is to La Mancha like Pomerol is to Bordeaux – a very specific, high-class sub-appellation. Other areas like Toledo produce nice saffron as well, but not quite as nice.

However, La Mancha saffron in general and Manchuela saffron in particular could very well be a vanishing species. Production has fallen off precipitously over the past 10 years due to one fact: saffron production is one of the most labor-intensive chores in agriculture anywhere, and the sharp increase of labor costs in Spain plus the dearth of manpower (Spanish agriculture has become largely dependent on immigrant laborers, as is the case elsewhere in the European Union) means that even at $1,200 a kilo saffron is no longer profitable. Research into ways to mechanize (at least partly) the production process, particularly removing the few pistils from each flower, is under way in both Italy and Spain. If it doesn't succeed in producing efficient equipment, European saffron will soon be a thing of the past.

Meanwhile, and to board doubters, I would stress that the bevy of avant-garde chefs that have made Spain one of the culinary hot spots of the world have all devoted much attention to saffron, reaching spectacular results with it both in sweet and in savory dishes. From Ferran Adrià's 'sepia en texturas' (cuttlefish in textures) to saffron guru Manolo de la Osa's many saffron-based recipes (codfish with cumin, garlic and saffron; oyster with pumpkin cream and saffron sauce), they show just how high this spice can reach in the realm of 'grande cuisine'. Of course, there's also tradition – see this forlorn, nondescript inland village in Alicante province, Pinoso, which has become the Mecca for paella freaks all over the world. They go there in pilgrimage to taste Casa Paco's mindboggling, saffron-infused rabbit-and-snail paella, the rice piled only one quarter-inch high at the bottom of an immense flat-bottom pan... (Of course, every one of these cooks uses saffron only in infusions, as an aromatic tea to be added to dishes and sauces – don't just drop the pistils in the pot!)

Edited by vserna (log)

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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Manchuela is to La Mancha like Pomerol is to Bordeaux – a very specific, high-class sub-appellation. Other areas like Toledo produce nice saffron as well, but not quite as nice.

Do you know of a Spanish website that sells this mail order?

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SusanNS: I housesat for a friend while he was in Turkey and he brought me back a huge bag of what he was told was saffron, but was actually safflower. While they look similar you can tell the difference-the safflower won't look like the pictures people here have posted (saffron has more distinct, shiny threads). Have you figured out if you indeed have saffron or if it might be safflower, or if you you just used too much in your potatoes?

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Manchuela is to La Mancha like Pomerol is to Bordeaux – a very specific, high-class sub-appellation. Other areas like Toledo produce nice saffron as well, but not quite as nice.

Do you know of a Spanish website that sells this mail order?

This is a good brand (saffron from Campillo de Altobuey, in Manchuela):

http://www.donselecto.net/com/productosIni...desde=&clase=10

Victor de la Serna

elmundovino

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