Inside the ingredient: Saffron

Palazzo Versace director of culinary & F&B Mansour Memarian discusses the Persian ingredient
Inside the ingredient

What is saffron? Saffron is indispensable. This extraordinary spice is the king of Persian cuisine, without it no authentic taste is given. It is used in all dishes.

Flavour: The taste is a mix of floral and honey flavours, a bit sweet, but earthy too. This spice is the perfect ingredient to round up dishes.


Harvest: Saffron threads are the stamens of the crocus flower, a high-maintenance flower with difficult, and generally low, yields. Each flower blooms only one week each year and produces a maximum three to four stamens, which must be picked by hand, then dried. The process is extremely intensive and, of course, expensive.

Saffron is native to some Southern European countries, but is cultivated worldwide. The best quality grows in the Persian highlands and prairies.

How is it used in Persian gastronomy? Some mix saffron threads with a small amount of hot water or ice cubes to get the maximum colour. In some households, saffron is crushed with sugar and used as a powder. This will minimise the overall usage of saffron but maximises the flavour needed.

I personally love to use saffron as fresh as it is, and work only with the threads, but in this case you need to allow this beautiful spice sufficient time to develop itself.

But even saffron has an expiry date and should be used as fresh as possible and not be kept for more than six months if you want to have the best flavour.

Recipes: In Persian cuisine, you rarely find dishes or marination without saffron being used, but one of the most authentic saffron dishes is of course the traditional ice cream with frozen clotted cream pieces called bastani mahali.

Uses around the world: There is no kitchen in the world that does not use saffron in savoury or sweet dishes. While some love to enjoy it with their tea or as refreshment, others use it as medicine or in some cosmetic, pharmaceutics, and textile-dye industries.

Where to buy it? The price can go up to AED24,000 per kilogram.

Real saffron threads are evenly sized and the colour is an indicator its quality.Saffron threads in a deep red are the highest quality.

Yellow stamens are a sign of poor quality. Purchasing powdered saffron should be avoided as it always disappoints and does not exhibit the incredible flavours you would expect from fresh saffron.

Good quality saffron can be purchased in a well-stocked supermarket or from delicatessen stores. 

Did you know? Saffron spice was first documented in 7BCE

Originally, it was used in ancient Persian royal carpets and perfumes to create the shiny yellow colour.

Even Alexander the Great fell in love with saffron and used it in his infusions and baths as a cure for battle wounds.

Alexander’s troops imitated the practice from the Persians and brought saffron-bathing to Greece.

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