What makes a good Saffron?
Saffron is the harvested stigma of the autumn crocus flower, also known as the saffron crocus. Each flower produces only three stigma at a time, meaning it takes between 50,000 and 75,000 flowers to produce just 1 pound of saffron spice. To put it another way, that pinch of saffron you’re throwing in your paella? Those twenty-ish stigma have come from seven different flowers.
The difference between real and fake saffron could be sometimes less obvious. Fake saffron which is often coloured with red food colouring or other foreign substances will either lack flavour entirely or have a bitter metallic taste. On the other hand, real saffron will have a strong floral scent and the will have a floral and earthy taste, the kind of flavour you’re looking for saffron to impart.
When real, high-quality saffron is harvested, the sargol and negin are harvested by carefully removing the style of each thread, The sargol and negin are the highest quality parts of the saffron stigma. These parts are the best portions due to the fact they contain all of the stigma’s stores of picrocin and safranal, the organic chemical compounds that make saffron such a unique ingredient. Picrocin is the compound that gives saffron its bitter taste. Safranal is compound responsible for saffron’s floral aroma. This is done prior to drying the saffron such as to ensure that the finished product has its distinct deep red colour. It is paramount to remove the style prior to drying because, as many of those that have used saffron before know, the final saffron thread is frail and delicate, and removing the yellow style after drying would be difficult.
It’s important to know that some yellow should be present in the dried stigmas. If the saffron is completely red, that’s usually a good indicator that the supplier dyed the batch to cover up impurities or low quality. Additionally, avoid saffron that looks frayed, worn or has a plenty of pale streaks—these are also an indicator of poor quality. The best saffron should be a deep red with orange/yellow tips.