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Sunday, February 12, 2017
Why Saffron is the Most Expensive Spice
Macrine and I had our first experience with buying Saffron when we visited Morocco, North Africa (in 2000) during our one day tour to Tangier from Gibraltar, Spain. However, the price per ounce in Tangier was still cheaper if you compared the spice sold here in the US.
Saffron, the most expensive spice, estimated price is about $1,500 per pound and up so it is usually sold only by the gram or ounce-just a small cluster of slender red threads in a tiny glass bottle. At the Spice House in Chicago, owners Tom and Patty Erd sell a gram of superior grade saffron for $6.79, and an even finer version, known as coupé grade, for $8.29.
The threads are the stigmas of tiny crocuses, grown primarily in Spain, Iran, Greece and India. Since each flower only has three stigmas, many blossoms are needed to produce even a small amount of spice. It takes an acre of land and hundreds of thousands of flowers to produce one pound of saffron threads.
Saffron, which Patty Erd calls "a classic," has been a key ingredient in cuisines since ancient times, and it is commonly used to make risotto, bouillabaisse and paella. Fortunately, a little saffron goes a long way and most recipes call for just a pinch.
"There are 200 to 300 threads per gram, and you only need a few threads at a time," Erd says. "You use it so sparingly that in the long run it's not much more expensive than any other spice."
Vanilla Saffron Imports president Juan San Mames advises buyers that they invest on a good quality product. His San Francisco direct-import business currently offers saffron for $1,162.24 per pound, or $72.95 per ounce, and carefully vets its saffron for compliance with ISO standards. (Yes, the ISO has saffron specifications.) Cheap saffron producers often leave in the tasteless yellow stamens, adding weight and diluting the red stigmas that give the spice its famous taste.
If you still can not afford Saffron for spice, a cheaper and good substitute is turmeric powder/extract. We called turmeric dilaw ( means yellow) in Marinduque, Philippines and is the most popular spice ( yellow coloring) for a few Filipino dishes, such as chicken adobo sa Gata. Both turmeric and saffron had anti-inflammatory activity and are used as herbal drugs/dietary supplements for a variety of ailments.