Cooking With Saffron – What You Need To Know


Saffron is the most popular spice thanks to its unique, floral, and grassy flavor and a slightly bitter aftertaste. It is a surprisingly aromatic spice that gives dishes a wonderful taste and a noble golden color. Saffran’s history dates back to the Stone Age (10,000 – 7,000 BC) when it was used to create paintings on the rocks. Nowadays saffron is widely used in cooking – it is often added not only to dishes but also to hot and cold drinks. Let’s dive into the tips of cooking with saffron and what is the best way to use saffron.

What is saffron used for in cooking? In cooking, saffron is traditionally used for risotto, seafood dishes like bouillabaisse and paella, in fish marinades together with garlic and thyme, added to soups, vegetable stews, sauces, bread, ice cream, cookies, muffins, cold and hot drinks (lemonade, tea, coffee). 

Cooking With Saffron – What You Need To Know

Saffron is a truly unique spice that has a floral, sweet flavor, a slightly bitter aftertaste, a pungent earthy, grassy aroma, and deep orange color. Since it has quite a strong aroma, it is usually not used with other spices. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, and 1 pound can cost as much as $5,500. Luckily, you do not need to use much of it in cooking. 1 g of saffron will be enough for over 100 dishes. In cooking, saffron can be used either as saffron threads or powder. We recommend you buy only saffron threads since some manufacturers can add cheaper spices to the powder-like turmeric to deceive you.

High-quality, expensive saffron does not contain impurities and has a rich red or deep orange hue. To keep saffron fresh for longer, store it in an airtight container without moisture and light for no more than 2 years, then it loses its color and aroma. To check the quality of saffron, put 1-3 strands of it in warm water. Fresh and high-quality saffron threads quickly swell and color the water. Now let’s dive into the saffron taste and what dishes it can be used in.

What does saffron taste like? High-quality saffron has a sweet, honey-like, floral flavor with hints of slight bitterness and spiciness. It has a mild grassy, earthy, sweet aroma similar to vanilla and honey. If saffron tastes too bitter or metallic, it is a cheap substitute that must be avoided.

See also: What Does Saffron Taste Like? Learn The Truth

What dishes can saffron be used in? Saffron goes best with dishes like bouillabaisse and paella, risotto, and other rice dishes like pilaf, vegetable, and beef stews, tomato sauces, fish soups. Saffron is often added to fish marinades, white meat, fish, and poultry. Saffron is used in cold and hot beverages, too.

Saffron is widely used in cooking in many countries. For example, in Europe and the USA, saffron is most commonly used in the confectionery industry and is added to pastries, cakes, muffins, cookies, creams, fondants, ice cream, and jellies. In India, saffron is used in the preparation of desserts, for example, puddings, yogurts. In the East, saffron is an irreplaceable component of meat, chicken, vegetables, and rice dishes. In European countries (France, Spain, Italy), saffron is often added to seafood dishes (bouillabaisse and paella).

Regardless of the culinary traditions of each country, saffron is simply irreplaceable when cooking meat (beef, pork, veal, lamb), fish, vegetable, rice, and bean dishes. Saffron also goes well with dairy products (yogurt, milk), emphasizing their taste, and facilitating the process of digestion. Saffron is also used for making alcohol-based drinks – it gives a pleasant aroma and beautiful color to liqueurs and cocktails.

Since even 1-2 threads of saffron can change the color of the dish, it is often added to white meat, fish, and poultry. Not only does saffron give a unique sweet, honey-like flavor and a slightly bitter and spicy aftertaste, but it also gives an attractive deep orange color while keeping the dish low-calorie. The food with saffron acquires a very appetizing and non-dietary look, but at the same time remains healthy and tasty.

Saffron Pairing: What Does Saffron Go With?

What does saffron go with? Here is a list of foods that saffron goes with:

  • Seafood (bouillabaisse, paella)
  • Rice (risotto, pilaf)
  • White meat and poultry (chicken, turkey, duck)
  • Tomato-based sauces 
  • Meat stews (beef, pork, lamb)
  • Dairy (milk, yogurt)
  • Vegetable stews (zucchini, eggplant, carrot, mushroom)
  • Fruits (apple, orange)
  • Nuts (almond, walnut, cashew)
  • Desserts (ice cream, cookie, cake)
  • Cold drinks (lemonade)
  • Hot drinks (tea, coffee)

You only need 2-4 strands to give the dish a noble golden hue. The taste, aroma, and color of the spice do not reveal immediately, but several hours after the addition. Saffron also has preservative properties, so dishes prepared with it stay fresh for longer. Saffron is widely used in oriental, French, and Spanish cuisine. World-famous chefs combine it with fish and meat, fruits and vegetables, spice up desserts, drinks, soups, rice, baked goods, bread, sauces, and marinades with bright threads.

See also: Why Is Saffron So Expensive? See The Real Facts!

Saffron and Other Spices: What Herbs and Spices Go With Saffron?

What herbs and spices go with saffron? Saffron goes well with these herbs and spices:

  • Basil
  • Cinnamon
  • Fennel seed
  • Cilantro
  • Coriander
  • Nutmeg
  • Turmeric
  • Paprika
  • Thyme
  • Cumin
  • Cloves
  • Rosemary
  • Curry powder
  • Vanilla
  • Tarragon
  • Cardamom
  • Amchoor powder
  • Chervil

If you want to substitute saffron, you can use turmeric. Indian turmeric has a similar bitter-spicy aftertaste and also colors dishes in a pleasant golden hue. Its taste and aroma are not so intense, but there are also plenty of useful properties. Chefs from all over the world like saffron for its unique flavor and scent that goes with almost any dish. As for the spices, saffron can be combined with basil, thyme, rosemary, but it will still slightly fade their aroma. Saffron can substitute many spices and add its unique sweetness and bitterness and delicate aroma to any dish, be it a meat stew or ice cream.

See also: 8 Best Saffron Substitutes That Will Go Well With Any Dish

Cooking with Saffron FAQ

What do you cook with saffron? Saffron is often added to rice (risotto, pilaf), pasta, omelet, chicken and turkey dishes, seafood dishes, fish and chicken soups, vegetable (zucchini, eggplant, carrot, mushroom), and meat (lamb, pork, beef) stews, bread, cookies, cakes, ice cream, tea, coffee, and lemonades. 

What is the best way to use saffron? The best way to use saffron is to add it to fish soups, beef and vegetable stews, tomato-based sauces, seafood dishes (bouillabaisse and paella), risotto, pilaf, and other rice dishes. Saffron goes well with white meat, poultry, and fish. Add saffron to your tea or coffee to add some spiciness.

What can you use saffron spice for? Saffron is used in bread, cookies, muffins, and cakes. Saffron is also added to butter, cheese, liqueur, tea, and coffee for color, aroma, and taste. In medicine, saffron is used to make tinctures and eye drops. It goes well with meat, fish, seafood, poultry, vegetables, and mushrooms.

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