How to stretch saffron, without sacrificing flavor – The Denver Post

By Naz Deravian, The New York Times

In the Iranian kitchen, the dizzying aroma of sweet saffron mingled with the warm, nutty scent of perfectly steamed rice is a time-honored call to the table. Even though it is known as the world’s most expensive spice, saffron is ubiquitous in Persian cuisine and infuses a wide array of dishes with soul.

We can all welcome saffron into our kitchens frequently and fearlessly by taking cues from Iranian home cooks, who use the spice regularly, economically and wisely. If treated properly, a small pinch can brighten and perfume savory and sweet dishes and drinks.

Ancient Persians, among other early civilizations, treasured saffron for its healing, mood-enhancing and decorative virtues and, later, its culinary ones. Ever since, saffron has left its gastronomic mark across the globe.

Harvesting saffron is extremely laborious, hence its high cost. Saffron comes from the crocus sativus plant, which produces two flowers, each one with three stigmas (saffron threads). The delicate flowers are harvested by hand in the fall and must be picked in a matter of hours each morning before they wilt. The stigmas are then hand-plucked and dried. It takes about 200 flowers to produce 1 gram of saffron.