One of the fabulous things about living in the San Francisco Bay area is the grocery shopping. There are stores catering to the cooking styles of so many cultures and we have access to all of them. We have our favorite Japanese, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean stores. We went to one of our favorite markets, Caron International Food Market, to get Bulgarian feta, kalamatas and saffron. They keep the saffron behind the counter, with good reason. The stuff runs $500 to $5000 per pound. Last time we got some there it was a decent price, so we asked the super friendly shopkeepers for some more. Lo and behold, they pulled out a package with my name on it. Literally, my name: the package says “Edman Saffron” and my last name is Edman. How cool is that?
Keep reading for more about saffron.
Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice by weight. It is the dried stigmas of a particular fall-flowering crocus (Crocus sativus). It has been cultivated for thousands of years, selecting for the longest stigmas. The stigmas must be gathered by hand, and there are only three per flower. It takes a football field’s worth of flowers (about 70,000) to make one pound of dried saffron.
Saffron has been traditionally used medicianally, as a spice, as a dye, and even as an aphrodisiac.
Saffron is graded according to ISO 3632. It is graded on absorbance of 440 nm light, or, how red it is. Yep, redder is better.
Saffron is grown around the world, but the saffron most commonly available in the US is from Spain, India, or Iran. Cook’s Illustrated did a saffron taste test, and their favorite came from Pennsylvania. They also recommended Penzey’s as a good source for saffron, but it comes from Spain and Kashmir. Their price range is $2240 to $5200/pound ($5 to $11.50/g).
At those prices, it looks like we’re going to stick with Iranian saffron at $1360/pound ($3/g) from the neighborhood market.
If you’re in the south bay, and want to check out Caron, it is at El Camino and Wolfe in Sunnyvale. They just added a little cafe, which has excellent kabobs. And they have reasonably priced saffron, with my name on it.