Prized since Greek and Roman times. Saffron threads are the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus flowers. Grown on the Spanish plains of la Mancha, Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world because each crocus produces only three stigmas which are laboriously hand picked during only three weeks every year. It takes about 200,000 of those hand picked crocus flower stigmas to produce 1 pound of saffron threads.
Luckily a little goes a long way. Saffron has a unique delicate almost bitter almond-like flavor with a warm distinctive and lasting aroma; its deep red-orange threads add a brilliant yellow-orange color to food. The delicate flavor of saffron compliments light meats, fish and poultry and is frequently used to season pilaf, risotto and rice. Saffron gives both bouillabaisse and paella their heady aroma and golden color. Saffron is also added to baked goods like St. Lucia saffron buns and Swedish saffron bread, a traditional part of Christmas celebrations.
For the best flavor and color, lightly toast threads in a dry pan to release the essential oils and then grind prior to use. When adding threads to dishes that have very little liquid, soak the saffron threads first in lukewarm water or some of the warm cooking liquid and add at the end of cooking. Saffron loses its flavor after extended periods of cooking, so it is best to add to a dish near the end of preparation.