Ingredient Spotlight: Saffron

We are exploring one of the most revered spices in history: saffron.


Saffron (pronounced “sa-frohn”) is a spice derived from the “saffron crocus” flower. These flowers are known by their bright, purple color. The spice itself comes from the plant’s three yellow stigmas, making saffron extremely difficult (and expensive!) to extract. Saffron is native to the Mediterranean, particularly areas in Greece and Egypt, as well as areas of the Middle East. Most saffron imported to the U.S. comes from Spain and is grown in Iran.

Saffron is certainly a powerhouse within the spice world. This spice has been enormously popular throughout its over 3,000 year old history as a widely traded commodity in the spice trades. Saffron has maintained its popularity not only for its flavor but also for its effectiveness in dying textiles and uses in cosmetics and medicines. Saffron has invoked legends and stories within Greek and Roman mythology as well as ancient religious texts. It has even been claimed to enhance feelings of happiness.

So how does one use this ancient spice in everyday cooking?


Saffron possesses a hay-like aroma and has a complex flavor ranging from bitter to semi-sweet depending on the food pairing. This flavor profile allows the spice to be used in multiple varieties of dishes ranging from risottos to shellfish. Saffron is traditionally seen in spice blends for popular Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes such as paella, curry, and bouillabaisse. However, the spice also appears in cheeses, pastries, rice and seafood. Saffron can be used to lighten the heaviness of a dish or to add a sweet and earthy flavor.


When cooking with saffron remember that a little goes a long way! If using the stigmas instead of a powdered version, many chefs recommend allowing the stigmas to soak in water for a few minutes to ensure you (and your dish!) receive the full flavor profile of this spice.


We use saffron to brighten a traditional, Milanese risotto with our Saffron-Herb Risotto with Roasted Broccolini. Our chef has chosen to pair saffron with fresh herbs such as Italian parsley and thyme to provide a new play on this filling and satisfying rice dish. Also try this spice in our Chicken Kebab over Saffron-Barberry Rice.

Happy cooking adventures!