Saffron: recipes, prices, side effects and properties

How to best use this fantastic, but unfortunately expensive spice

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By Alex


Saffron is one of the most expensive foods on earth. With its strong and decisive taste, saffron is an obligatory ingredient in countless recipes. It is also rich in phytonutrients and possesses unique medicinal properties.

Saffron appears in so many recipes around the world. Saffron risotto is arguably the most popular dish, but you will find it as an important ingredient in several other dishes. So many people use it in dough products, to add some flavor to soups and broths, in creams… You can use it in endless ways.

The saffron has a distinctive taste of honey, bitter and spicy at the same time.

This is one of the most expensive spices. To get 1 kilogram of saffron, you need to collect stigmas of 400,000 flowers! Fresh saffron is the best: do not store it for the future, because it loses its fantastic properties over the time. It has a red-brown color when fresh, which is slightly different from the shelf products we are used to.

Where does saffron come from?

Saffron comes from the saffron crocus bulb (Crocus Sativus), a flower from the Middle East which then spread in temperate climate zones and with low rainfall.

Iran is currently the top producer in the world. This spice is much cultivated also in Southern Europe (Spain, Italy), India and Morocco for both commercial and ornamental purposes.

It is formed by a bulb from which, at the beginning of spring, the flower blooms with its colored pistils. The term saffron comes from the Arabic word “za faran”, which means yellow. The Spanish word “alzafran” comes precisely from here.

Harvesting saffron

To obtain the saffron used for culinary purposes, the stigmas are picked up inside of the flower, dried and then reduced to powder.

It is one of the most expensive spices (between 15 and 35 dollars per gram), because only stigmas are used and a large quantity of them is needed.

Just think that to obtain 1 kg of finished product takes about 400,000 stigmas, and processing is done almost exclusively by hand.

Because of its coloring power it is used as a natural dye: for instance, the clothes of Tibetan Buddhist monks have that beautiful yellow-gold color because of saffron. But it is also an indispensable staple in the kitchen, especially as a flavoring food.

Saffron flowers
Saffron flowers: you will need 400k of them to obtain 1 kilogram of saffron powder

Saffron properties

This expensive ingredient owes its characteristics to these active components:

  • Safranal, which is the main component of the aroma
  • Crocin which gives it its yellow-orange color
  • Picrocrocin which gives it its characteristic flavor.

In addition, saffron powder provides approximately 310 calories for every 100 grams. Its most common property is as a stimulant for the secretion of gastric juices, so it is used at very low doses to aid digestion.

But it also contains antioxidants and carotenoids. That’s why saffron helps you fight aging and cardiovascular diseases and strengthens immune defenses.

The benefits do not stop here. This ingredient is a natural anti-inflammatory and contributes to alleviate menstrual pain. It contains vitamin B1, essential for the digestive system and nervous system, and vitamin B2, another essential vitamin for our body.

Phytotherapy uses saffron and honey to treat gingivitis.

It has antidepressant, sedative, while for external use it is a healing substance, used directly on scratches, abrasions and burns.

Last but not least, saffron reportedly possesses aphrodisiac properties.

Saffron therapeutic properties

Let us first remember that the use as a therapeutic substance is linked to small quantities, since excessive use is far from useful. On the contrary, excessive intake is dangerous and may lead to intoxication, alterations in the state of consciousness, dizziness, loss of balance, bleeding. Excessive use for pregnant women carries the risk of abortion because it leads to an increase in contractions.

Its toxicity with the risk of serious side-effects is proven with intakes from 5 grams (about 3 times the maximum dose to be used in medicinal treatments). So be careful, use this spice for therapeutic use only under strict medical supervision.

The active ingredients of saffron have benefits in those who are subject to mild depression or to the typical mood swings of premenstrual syndrome. You can make a decoction to drink away from meals in small cups up to maximum 4 per day. Just boil for 10 minutes 3 grams of stigmas of saffron in 1 liter of water. You can also use it as an anti-inflammatory, releasing respiratory tract, and reducing the intensity of asthma crisis.

It helps those who suffer from insomnia, for example with an infusion: you need 2 gr of stigmas of saffron, 10 gr of passiflora and 10 gr of valerian in 1 liter of water, to drink in the evening before bedtime.
In herbal medicine it is also used for its antispasmodic, sweating and carminative properties.

Saffron prices

Saffron is one of the most expensive spices (between 15 and 35 USD per gram for quality saffron), because only stigmas are used and a great deal of work is needed. As I pointed out, it takes about 400,000 stigmas to produce 1 kg of finished product, and processing is done almost exclusively by hand.

If you are looking for powder, in the classic bags of 0.20-0.30 grams from 5-6 dollars to 8-10 dollars if it is a quality product.

For this reason, the powder is often adulterated with turmeric, paprika, powder samples of ballast or other spices. How to recognize pure saffron?

Pure saffron will never be cheap. Its color should be bright red and uniform and the powder must be absolutely dry.

A golden spice: saffron crocus threads

A saffron recipe: risotto with artichokes and lemon

Here is a super fast and simple recipe for risotto with artichokes, lemon and this valued spice.


You will need:

  • 300 g of Carnaroli rice (remember, always the Carnaroli rice for risotto!)
  • 4 artichokes
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 butter walnut
  • one shallot and one lemon
  • 1 sachet of saffron
  • a liter of vegetable broth
  • 1 tablespoon of parmesan cheese

Step by step preparation

  • Pick the artichokes and remove the internal beards and the harder outer leaves. Keep the artichokes in water acidulated with lemon juice at least 1 hour.
  • Chop the shallot and take 2 artichokes.
  • Fry over low heat with oil for 3 minutes and then add the rice.
  • Toast the rice and add the dry white wine. Let it fade out.
  • Pour in the broth and after 5 minutes add the remaining 2 artichokes and saffron.
  • Cook again until the broth has dried and the rice is ready. Do not overcook!
  • Dust with grated lemon rind and butter and grain.Keep on low fire for 2 minutes and serve.

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