Known as “l’or rouge” (lor rooj) saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. Each red thread represents the pistil of a crocus, gathered by hand, and the harvest has started throughout France. Until the French Revolution, saffron was harvested by the ton in France. After having fallen out of favor, saffron is now very à la mode.
Each flower is delicately plucked by hand. It takes a great many to produce saffron. For one gram, 250 flowers must be gathered, for a kilo, 250,000 flowers are required. This is why saffron is so expensive – French saffron sells for 35,000 Euros a kilogram. This is twice the going rate for pure gold.
Each gram of saffron is the result of one hour of labor. The delicate pistil is separated from the flower by hand and only the red part of it is kept. When it is cooked, saffron gives up its aroma. It’s more than a spice; it’s an invitation elsewhere
Saffron is available at a variety of price points from several countries, including Spain, Iran, and France. How can you know you are getting top quality saffron? According to chef Olivier Roellinger, you get what you pay for. Powdered saffron is usually blended with cumin; up to 80% is not actually saffron at all. Inexpensive filament “saffron” is worse; it is often fine leaves that have been dyed red. There is no short-cut for a labor-intensive natural product. And a little bit of saffron goes a long way – one gram is sufficient to flavor 100 dishes. Bon appétit.