What Does Saffron Taste Like? Learn The Truth


Saffron is the only spice that hasn’t dropped in price since the Middle Ages when a pound of saffron could be exchanged for an Arabian horse. The name of this spice in almost all languages comes from the Arabic word “za’faran”, meaning “yellow”, which indicates that saffron was prized primarily as a dye. However, saffron is also appreciated for its unique flavor and aroma. Read on to find out what saffron tastes like, what is so special about it, and how to use saffron in cooking.

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. 

What is so special about saffron? Saffon is special as it combines essential and fatty oils that give it a unique aroma, taste, and coloring properties. It acts as an analgesic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and bactericidal agent. Saffron calms the nervous system, cleanses the blood, and promotes tissue rejuvenation.

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

What Does Saffron Taste Like? Learn The Truth

What is saffron? Saffron is obtained from the dried stigmas of flowers of perennial plants of the Iris family. It grows on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, in France, Spain, Asia Minor, India, China, Japan. On average, one pound of saffron costs $1500, but the price can go up to $5,000 per pound. Saffron is a deep red or reddish-brown soft entangled thread with yellow flecks. Even one thread of saffron is enough to give the dish a specific delicate aroma and exquisite sweet, pungent, and slightly bitter taste. Chefs describe the aroma of saffron as metallic honey with hints of fresh hay.

Does saffron taste good? Saffron does taste good and is often added to soups, sauces, stews, rice, pizza, pies, meat, fish, bread, cookies, cakes, desserts, and even ice cream. Saffron gives the dish its rich floral, earthy, honey aroma, and spicy taste with slight bitter notes.

It is recommended to soak saffron threads in warm water for 20-30 minutes before cooking to fully reveal its aroma. You can also fry saffron threads in a dry frying pan, grind them into powder, or soak the threads in milk, broth, white wine. In cooking, saffron is used to add a delicate saffron flavor, aroma, spicy taste, and a beautiful golden color to soups, meat, fish, vegetable dishes, and desserts. Saffron can be added to tea, coffee, and soft drinks for tonic properties. Usually, saffron is added in the form of an alcoholic or watery solution before cooking. For 1 liter of the ready-made dish, you need no more than 5-6 drops of saffron tincture.

What does saffron taste similar to? Saffron’s taste is unique, yet it is very close to the taste of honey and vanilla. No other spice tastes similar to saffron as it has a delicate, grassy, earthy, floral, and sweet flavor with a mildly bitter aftertaste, a mild sweet scent, and gives a golden hue to the dish.

Does saffron have a flavor or just color? In addition to a bright, deep orange color, saffron has a unique, rich grassy, earthy, sweet flavor that it bestows on meat, fish, pasta, rice, pies, bread, tea, coffee, cakes, cookies, pancakes, and ice cream. One pinch of saffron is enough to give the deep orange color to the dish.

What is saffron most commonly used for? Saffran is most commonly used as a seasoning for rice, vegetable stews, soups, and salads. It can also be added to the meat and seafood dishes (bouillabaisse, paella), pies, bread, cold and hot drinks (lemonades, tea, coffee). Saffron is also used as perfumes, food colorings, and fragrances.

See also: Cooking With Saffron – What You Need To Know

In cooking, saffron is used not only to decorate dishes but also as a natural preservative. The bright aroma and distinct saffron flavor repel pests, which contributes to an increase in the shelf life of products. As a spice, saffron is included in the recipes of sausages, liqueurs, and cheeses. Saffron is also actively used in cosmetology and aromatherapy. For example, saffron baths for rejuvenation were also popular in Ancient Greece and Egypt. Infusions with saffron were considered an aphrodisiac, and flowers were woven into clothes as a symbol of wealth.

It has been known since ancient times that saffron has unique properties. It can relieve pain, depression, and melancholy, as it promotes the production of serotonin, the hormone of joy. Thus, saffron is a light psychotropic substance that is not addictive. Saffron has the ability to improve digestion, strengthen the senses and respiratory organs, cleanse the lymph, kidneys, and liver, relieve cramps, remove blood congestion in the vessels, improve skin condition, and increase potency. In ancient times, noblewomen drank saffron tincture before giving birth to relieve pain. Cleopatra took saffron baths to keep her skin young and moisturized.

How To Use Saffron in Cooking

What does saffron do to food? Saffron adds its floral, earthy, grassy flavor, mild sweet vanilla aroma to the food. Just one pinch of saffron adds a bright orange color, umami flavor, and honey smell to the meat, fish, risotto, pies, tea, coffee, and desserts. Saffron also gives a pleasant, slightly bitter aftertaste.

What do you do with saffron? Saffron is often added to rice dishes, meat (pork, beef, veal), vegetable stews, soups, broths, and pizza. Saffron can be added to cheese, sausages, bread, tea, coffee, pies, ice cream, cookies, cakes, and other desserts to give the dish a floral, honey flavor with slight notes of bitterness.

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

Since saffron has a very strong earthy, grassy scent and rich sweet taste with a bitter aftertaste, 2-3 saffron threads are enough to make the dish more flavorful. Saffron is widely used in almost all cuisines of the world. It is especially appreciated in the East, the Mediterranean coast, in southern European countries. Saffron is added to rice, meat, seafood, poultry. It also goes well with vegetables, soups, and various dressings. Confectioners add saffron to baked foods, desserts, or drinks.

Different countries have their own traditions of cooking dishes with this spice. In Europe and North America, saffron is most commonly used in the confectionery industry, it 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 and yogurts. In the East, it is an irreplaceable component of meat, chicken, vegetables, and rice dishes. In European countries, saffron is added to the seafood dishes. Regardless of the culinary traditions of each country, saffron is irreplaceable when preparing meat, vegetable, bean dishes. In addition, this seasoning goes well with dairy products, maximizing their taste, and, importantly, promotes the assimilation of milk by the body. Saffron has also found an active use in the preparation of alcohol-based drinks as it gives a pleasant aroma and beautiful color to liqueurs and cocktails.

What is the best way to use saffron? The best way to use saffron is to add it to meat (pork, beef, veal) or seafood dishes (paella, bouillabaisse) to give them spiciness, pleasant bitterness, and mild grassy aroma. Saffran also goes well with rice, pasta, and vegetable stews (zucchini, eggplant, mushroom, carrot).

Nutritional Value Of Saffron

The calorie content of saffron is 310 Kcal per 100 grams of the product. Saffron is rich in vitamins and minerals like vitamin B2, vitamin B6, vitamin B9, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, manganese, and copper. The composition of saffron contains 6.8% of fatty oil. It also contains water, saccharides, glycosides safranal and crocetin, the yellow natural dye crocin, the flavonoids isorhamnetin, and kaempferol, as well as a high molecular weight carbohydrate gum. Saffron also contains crucial vitamins, including riboflavin, thiamine, and carotene.

Saffron improves the digestion process and appetite, tones the body, is a source of minerals and vitamins, improves the functioning of the brain, liver, heart, nervous system, respiratory system, cleanses the kidneys, exhibits anticonvulsant, sedative, analgesic, diuretic, diaphoretic, and choleretic properties. Saffron promotes cell renewal, soothes the skin, helps to cope with stress, exhibits anti-mutagenic and anticarcinogenic activity. Since ancient times, saffron has been known as an aphrodisiac.

Saffron History of Origin

Saffron has been known to mankind as a spice for over 4,000 years, although saffron-based paints were used in Neolithic rock paintings. The first traces of saffron use in food are found in Mesopotamia, and the first written records refer to the Sumerian civilization. In the 10th century BC, Persians weaved saffron threads into fabrics for sacrifices and made saffron-based perfumes and aromatic oils, which were used as powerful aphrodisiacs. In the army of Alexander the Great, saffron was used to heal wounds. In the Old Testament, saffron is mentioned as an element of sacrifices, dye, and incense. In ancient Chinese sources, saffron is referred to as a medicine. In the east, the color of saffron has become the color of the clothing of Buddhist monks, and in Europe, saffron was a sign of wealth and high position in society. The Roman nobility used saffron as a medicine, a dye for fabric and leather, and as an aromatic seasoning.

Interest in saffron, like other spices and luxury goods, declined with the fall of the Roman Empire and only reappeared in the Middle Ages during the plague.  Saffron was regularly hijacked by pirates and resulted in a small “saffron war”. At the courts of European monarchs, saffron-dyed clothes and shoes were very popular. Saffron flowers were used in Bourbon heraldry. In the English county of Essex, there is a town of Saffron, named after the saffron fields, which brought considerable income to the treasury. Henry VIII appreciated saffron so much that he forbade courtiers to dye their hair and clothes with saffron to look favorably against their background.

The Spaniards were the first to produce saffron for export. As of now, the largest saffron plantations are found in Andalusia, Valencia, and the Bolear Islands. Currently, saffron is produced in Greece, Iran, France, Italy, Turkey, Pakistan, New Zealand, the USA, China, Japan, and the Transcaucasian states. Residents of these regions, who use saffron extensively in their cooking, do not suffer from cardiovascular diseases, although their traditional cuisine is rich in fats. Spanish saffron sells for the highest price due to its rich aroma and deep umami taste. Italian saffron has a very pungent smell and a strong sweet taste. Greek, Iranian and Indian saffron has the longest shelf life.

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