Saffron is an exotic spice used in food colouring and flavouring. A deep auburn in colour and known as ‘red gold’, it is the most expensive spice in the world. The spice is harvested in autumn from the beautiful blue Crocus Sativus, known as the saffron crocus.
The delicate plant bears up to four blue flowers, each of which yields no more than three tiny red stigmas. These flowers are handpicked when in bloom and the stigmas carefully removed, sieved and dried.
One person can glean about 1,000 flowers per hour and one person can extract about 450 stigmas in that same time. Between 150 and 200 flowers provide 1g of saffron and a minimum of 150,000 flowers produce 1 kilo, a highly labour-intensive job that explains the incredibly high price.
Carefully placed on the drying sieves, the stigmas are dried in a temperature-controlled environment. Heat is precisely regulated in order to maintain flavour and colour. Dried stigmas are then sealed in jars before reaching the shops two months later.
The golden threads are used sparingly and have a shelf life of between three and five years. The flavour is like no other and accompanies both sweet and savoury dishes.