Saffron threads are the stigmas of the Crocus sativus flower, which are handpicked and dried to create one of the most expensive and sought-after spices in the world.
Each flower produces only three stigmas, which are harvested by hand and then carefully dried to preserve their distinctive flavor and aroma. Saffron threads are known for their intense and complex flavor, which is slightly bitter and earthy with notes of honey and hay.
They are also prized for their vibrant yellow-orange color, which can add a rich hue to a variety of dishes. Saffron threads are often used in small quantities, as a little goes a long way in terms of both flavor and color.
This makes saffron a luxurious and special ingredient that can elevate a dish to a whole new level of complexity and sophistication.
Let’s dive in without further ado.
Choose the best saffron
First things, first. If you want to know how to use saffron in cooking, you need to buy a real and good quality one. As saffron is expensive and quite hard to find, adulterated saffron can make good money for many sellers. So, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money on fake saffron, here’s a hint:
- Don’t purchase powdered saffron as it is easier to adulterate.
- Pure and fresh saffron are dry; moist saffron is neither fresh nor pure. (Sellers add water to make it weigh more and earn more money.)
- Real saffron feels crunchy to the touch.
- Pure saffron threads don’t lose their colour when infused in water. They will impart a golden-yellow hue while the lines keep their reddish colour.
- Pure saffron thread doesn’t break apart when you rub it between your fingers. It has a solid texture, while fake saffron breaks apart like corn silk.
How to use saffron threads
The process of diluting saffron is the same regardless of what you want to make.
Many people think they can add saffron threads to milk and make delicious beverages in no time.
Although you can steep the saffron in milk, broth, cream, etc., it will take much more time to get saffron extract fully. This is because milk and other liquids contain fat, making them less soluble than water.
So, no matter what you want to make, it’s better to steep the saffron in water. Even if you want to make saffron milk, you can add saffron threads to a small amount of water and, after about half an hour, pour it into the milk. Don’t worry; water won’t change milk’s taste.
Below, we’ll teach you all you need to know about how to use saffron threads step by step. But the amount of saffron you use will vary based on what you want to make.
1. Start early
The first rule of thumb: let saffron rest in the water as long as possible to get the most out of it.
So, add saffron and water into an air-tight jar the night before cooking. Although after about half an hour saffron will impart a golden hue, to get the most out of the threads, let them rest in the water for 12 to 24 hours.
Saffron is a delicate yet rich spice. So, if you want to enjoy its every aspect, have patience.
2. Grind saffron before steeping
Adding saffron strands to water is a common way of extracting its flavor; but it isn’t necessarily the best way. If you want to get the most out of each strand in the fastest time possible, grind the threads to powder. How to do that?
- Take a few strands of saffron (preferably three strands per person) and put them on a clean paper to dry (Avoid moisty saffron and make sure your threads are fully dry before crushing them)
- Put dry threads to a mortar and use pestle to crush them into powder.
You can also use you fingers to crush saffron strands.
3. Steep in water
- Add your crushed saffron to a small bowl
- Pour a few drops of water (or liquid of your choice) to mortar in order not to waste any saffron
- Add 4 tbsp (or more) of the liquid to the bowl
- Stir saffron a few times
- Cover the bowl
- Let it rest for 12-24 hours
Now, your saffron water is ready to use in any recipe. Skip the second step if making saffron tea.
How to use saffron (The last-minute trick)
What if you just woke up from a sweet dream to find out your friends are coming for lunch. You don’t have enough time to go over all these steps let alone steeping saffron for hours before using it. So, what can you do?
Don’t worry. You can extract saffron hue in less than 15 minutes. how? Follow these steps:
- Just like the previous steps, take a couple of saffron threads and crush them into powder with mortar and pestle.
- Put them in a small bowl.
- Add three or more ice cubes to the bowl as needed.
- Wait for the cubes to melt and your saffron water is ready to use!
Although infusing saffron in water for at least 4-6 hours will get the best results, there are always some scape ways if you are in a hurry. Some suggest using hot water to accelerate the process as well. Nevertheless, infusing saffron in cold water will make it impart its hue way faster than hot water.
Do I always need to infuse saffron before use?
In short, no. If you are cooking something like soap that use a lot of liquid and take time to be ready, you can skip the infusing step. Just grind saffron threads and add the powder directly to your food at any stage. Make sure it’ll cook for at least 30 minutes with your dish.
How to use saffron threads in such recipes? For example, to make saffron rice, you can simply add saffron powder and water to rice pot. Then, stir the rice before and after boiling. You’ll get golden and aromatic rice at the end.
Why cold water is the best for steeping saffron?
Infusing saffron with cold water or ice cubes is the best way of extracting saffron flavor. Although cold water makes the process much faster, its not the only reason. Most sources recommend using hot water for diluting saffron. But what they don’t mention is how hot water can affect saffron flavor. It can diminish saffron taste and aroma.
As you know saffron is a delicate spice. So, to coax out its flavor and use it in your recipes, you’d better treat it gently. If you don’t want any unexpected flavor in your dishes, infuse saffron with cold or mid-temperature liquids; preferably water.
Few notes to remember
- You can store saffron water in the fridge for up to 2 days.
- Always store saffron threads in a dry and dark environment in its original container.
- Keep saffron at room temperature away from sun light.
- Dry saffron threads can last for several years in the right environment. But saffron water must be used right away.