Saffron adds a bright yellow color and an earthy taste and aroma to food. To produce a pound of saffron, growers must hand-harvest 225,000 bright red stigmas from the saffron crocus (crocus sativus), making saffron the world's most expensive spice.
The stigmas, the female part of the saffron crocus flower, are long, thin and bright red. There are three stigmas at the center of each flower.
Growers harvest the stigmas by hand and dry them. Commercial saffron comes in two forms: dark red, thread-like stigmas or orangish-red powder made from ground stigmas.
You need to soak a few saffron threads in hot water to bring out the spice's flavor, color and aroma before adding them to a recipe. Some dishes call for toasted saffron threads. You can add powdered saffron directly to a dish.
Saffron is a popular ingredient in Mediterranean and Asian cuisines. It gives a distinctive yellow color to Spanish paella, Italian risotto and Indian rice dishes.
The yellow stamens of the saffron crocus are sometimes harvested and dried along with the stigmas to add weight to the product. The stamens have no aroma or taste, so they are not useful for cooking.