Saffron strands are harvested from the saffron crocus flower, extracted from the distal ends of the carpel in each flower. These flowers originated from Greece and are later cultivated in other parts of Asia such as India. In the culinary world, saffron strands are frequently used as a colouring agent. The crocin dye contained within the strands would inject a royal golden colour into any dish it stains, rendering this spice a popular ingredient for preparing dishes for the rich and famous. On the other hand, the strands exude a uniquely strong and piqued fragrance that is unlike any other common spices – metallic, raw and hay-like – hence the use of this spice as a palatial tea fragrance as well.
Though universally valued for its inherent properties, this spice is not grown expansively enough to allow for its use in everyday cooking by everyone. Apparently, at least 10,000 of these flowers have to be picked to get enough strands to make up a 100g pack; it takes at least 40 man hours to pick 150,000 flowers to collect enough strands for 15 of these 100g packs. At the end of the day, consumers could end up paying a few hundred dollars just to buy 100g of saffron strands!
Personally, I have 2 small containers of dried saffron strands which was purchased for me from Germany. They cost about 10 euros (about S$16) each for a small bottle of just one precious gram of dried saffron strands, which is still a lot cheaper than what it would have cost me here in Singapore.
If you’re looking for a simple dish to cook using this exotic spice, try the ‘Medieval Cabbage Chowder’ for an eye-opening experience. I hope you’d enjoy it like I did.