Where Local and Global Appetites Collide

Saffron: A Luxury at $200 per ounce

“I’m just mad about saffron. A-saffron’s just mad about me.”

Little did Donovan know that when he wrote his Mellow Yellow lyrics decades ago that fast forward to circa 2009, the luxurious spice — saffron would be selling on the luxury market for $200 per ounce.

Rhetorical question: What’s the going rate for cocaine?

Don’t worry, I’m not in the market to buy either.

The September issue of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) magazine which hits the newsstands on September 12 features an article called “An Uncommon Thread” which compares the investment of the saffron trade to drug running, an interesting read for sure.

  1. Years ago (maybe 20?), I was on a vacation that took me through Budapest. Jim and I love to wander the streets to take in the culture and we happened upon an indoor farmer’s market. Every other booth had saffron and it was dirt cheap. I did buy some and still have it in my spice drawer. I don’t know how to use it. Help!

  2. Make a good paella with that saffron! Though, honestly, I’m not sure if it’d be worth much for flavor after 20 years–depends on how air-tight the storage is?

    As expensive as saffron is (and the whole hand-harvesting with only 2-3 threads per flower is reason enough), you really don’t need a lot in any given dish. Thank goodness!

  3. Karyn gave me a scolding about my other old herbs and spices. I told her that they were from my mother’s kitchen and she died over 35 years ago. I obviously am holding onto them for reasons, unknown to me, other than frugality. I recently used up the carroway seeds in some fresh homemade bread and they tasted fine and I survived to live another day.

  4. “Old spices/herbs” do not ‘go bad’ and will not harm you, it’s just over time those lovely essential oils start dissipating and the product looses flavor. This happens more readily to ground herbs (leaves) rather than spices (hard seeds–caraway, fennel etc., flower–buds-cloves, and bark–cinnamon). I rarely buy ground herbs for that reason. I grow my own oregano, thyme, mint and rosemary but I do on occasion like the taste of dry herbs. Whole leaf is the way to go. You can rub them in your palms–to grind them, before dumping them into a recipe. TV chefs, and spice companies tell you that these herbs/spices are only good after 3 months–sounds like a marketing sucker punch to me. All you have to do is smell them and if they still have a pungent aroma then they are fine. Seeds may not give off as much of a smell because their essential oil is still encased in the seed. Only when you grind or toast them do they emit that lovely scent. I have a dedicated coffee grinder to grind spices but then again I am a chef and when I make Moroccan or Indian food it is a must to toast and grind those seeds. A comment on the saffron. NEVER buy ground saffron for the reasons I mentioned above and no matter how much you try to keep it airtight those essential oils do dissipate rather quickly. I have purchased saffron in Spain–which when I opened the box it was dry and barely fragrant. I’ve also used the Trader Joe’s saffron for about $3 for about .25 oz and it is more than enough for paella for 8 servings. I also bought and from the Spanish market for the same price and both were mediocre but passable. I spent $16 at a Persian Market and it was extremely fragrant. A warning: a little saffron goes a long way and can ruin a dish if you use too much. Well that’s my dried spice/herb tutorial for today.

  5. I’ve always wondered, and now I know. I’ve got a morter and pestal – I’ll have to give it a try on some of the seeds. Thanks for your thorough explanation.

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