Saffron: The Most Expensive Spice


A couple weeks ago, Josh and I were at The Bombay Store and at the cashier we saw some very expensive Spanish 1 gram saffron boxes in a glass box sitting on the counter. I pointed them out to Josh and after asking the price out of curiosity, Josh was pretty shocked. (I don’t remember the price, sorry). He didn’t have much knowledge about saffron in general so I simply told him that it is a very rare and expensive spice.

Some days later I remembered this and decided to google about it to learn more about it. I wasn’t surprised about the information but I thought it was super interesting. I emailed Josh this info:

“Saffron consists of the dried stigmas of the purple crocus.  The expense comes from the extraordinary labor involved in harvesting and preparing it for storage. There are only 3 stigmas (referred to as saffron threads) per flower.  Also adding to the expense is the fact that 80,000 flowers (or one acre) are needed to obtain one pound of Saffron. About 14,000 threads equals one ounce of saffron.
Almost all saffron grows in a belt bounded by the Mediterranean in the west and the rugged region encompassing Iran and Kashmir in the east”

Art of Harvesting Saffron:

His verbal response was: “wow! I almost feel guilty for buying it.” I thought I didn’t hear correctly and I said: “for not buying it?” and he said: “no, for buying it, [we didn’t actually buy it, but he phrased the sentence as if we had] all the work that those people have to go through… and the little boxes of saffron are just sitting there at a furniture store.”

Then, I felt guilty for not feeling guilty about the workers. I would have never had that thought if he hadn’t pointed it out. I love saffron, especially in desserts, in authentic Spanish paella and in risotto, and part of my love for it has to do with the rarity and uniqueness of it, nothing tastes quite like it. I am a girl that can sleep in a car for days and play “hot potato” with elephant poop, but I also enjoy luxury and sometimes have expensive taste. I even catch myself having expensive taste not purposely. Example:

One day in the US, Josh and I decided to go to an oriental rug store because we were interested in buying one for our house. I didn’t really know much about these rugs except that I like them a lot, they are hand made, and they have origins from India, Persia, Iran, Turkey, etc.

We started looking through the piles and piles of these rugs, I picked my favorite, and guess what, when we asked “how much for this one?” it happened to be a very expensive one, if not the most expensive one from the large pile of its size. We didn’t end up buying any of the rugs.

I think, as an artist, I just have a “good aesthetic eye” and usually good quality goes hand in hand with higher price.

saffron3 saffron

When I recently made kheer for the first time, Josh said “we have saffron?”, and I said: “yeah, I bought it when I went to town a few weeks ago, but just opened it now.” The saffron I bought was ,I believe, 1 gram for 300 rupees about $4.50 US dollars, not the best quality but cheap compared to saffron in the US and other brands of saffron. Eventually, I would like to try better quality saffron.

For such a pricey spice, luckily a little goes a long way so If you get ahold of saffron, here are some great recipes to try out:

Baked Spanish Risotto: This dish is inspired by the Spanish classic Paella and is cooked from raw in the oven.

Saffron Rice with Sofrito (gluten-free and vegan)

fava bean soup saffron

Mexican Style Fava Bean Soup (Sopa de Habas): The secret to this soup is a flavorful aromatic base of tomatoes, garlic, and onions—called a recado—that is pureed and fried before the beans go into the pot.

Salmon with Coconut-Saffron Sauce: The coconut and saffron together is a marriage made in heaven and the saffron gives this dish a beautiful color too.

Saffron Mashed Potatoes

butter saffron cake

Butter Saffron Cake: This recipe is based on one from Gunilla von Heland, a food editor in Stockholm. We found that steeping the saffron in vodka helps boost the flavor of the spice throughout the cake.


Kheer (Indian Rice Pudding)

Saffron & Chocolate Brownie with Kulfi Gelato

Saffron Cookies

I got a little excited about saffron recipes. I had to abstain myself from sharing too many.


6 thoughts on “Saffron: The Most Expensive Spice

    1. A jar might be too big, saffron usually comes in small plastic boxes of .5 gram or 1 gram quantities. Saffron will last longer when stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Usually the small saffron boxes are transparent so some people cover them in foil when stored. For a gift you could buy any cute small bag or box tied with a bow string and place the original saffron box inside it. I think this is a great idea for a gift for any foodie person or anyone who loves to cook!

  1. Really interesting — I honestly had no idea about how labor intensive saffron was to produce. I’m in Russia now and I can’t say that I’ve ever seen it available, but I’m sure the prices would be fairly astronomical.

    1. Haha “fairly astronomical.” Probably. I wouldn’t think you can find it very easily in Russia, I mean, I don’t think any Russians really cook with it. I like your blog btw, I visited Russia (St Petersburg and Moscow) back in 2008, I’ll be reading some of your posts now and following the rest. 🙂

  2. Is it the Saffron making the dishes yellow or tumeric? I say you go out back and plant yourself a field of flowers.. then when hubby is late coming home… or people are bugging you (or bugs).. slip out the back door and harvest your saffron!!… I wonder what constitutes ‘cheap’ saffron from better? Have a blog filled day for us today!

    1. The saffron definitely imparts yellow color. Some people, when using just a tiny bit of saffron like to add a drop of yellow coloring or a pinch of turmeric for extra color. Many saffron dishes don’t have turmeric. I like your idea about harvesting my own flowers. 😉 I read that there are a lot of sellers in India that sell fake saffron, especially to tourists. They make strands and dye them. I also read in wiki that there is a grade system for saffron that measure the crocin (colour), picrocrocin (taste), and safranal (fragrance) content: IV (poorest), III, II, and I (finest quality). However, many growers, traders, and consumers reject such lab test numbers. They prefer a more holistic method of sampling batches of thread for taste, aroma, pliability, and other traits in a fashion similar to that practised by wine tasters. Have a great day yourself!

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