What Does Saffron Look Like?

by Cameron Delaney

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.

Identification

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.

Types

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.

Considerations

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.

Function

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.

Warning

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.

Photo Credits

  • Wikimedia Commons

About the Author

Cameron Delaney is a freelance writer for trade journals and websites and an editor of nonfiction books. As a journalist, Delaney worked for wire services, newspapers and magazines for more than 20 years. Delaney's degrees include a bachelor's degree in journalism from Pennsylvania State and a master's degree in liberal arts from University of Denver.