Saffron is also one of the most expensive spices in the world, along with cardamom and vanilla. As you must already know, it belongs to the family of Crocuses, and is derived from the flowers of Crocus sativus. Just like cardamom, saffron requires very specific growing conditions and is harvested by hand. It does not multiply naturally and has a short flowering window, making each saffron plant very valuable.
Adulterants are common to saffron, since it is such a valued spice. Buying from a reputable source is always a good idea. When you bring your spice home, test it by soaking five to eight saffron threads in a few tablespoons of warm water. After a few minutes, the saffron threads will plump up ever so slightly where you can pick them up and distinctly taste the saffron flavor. The water will be clear but have a gentle hue of the warm burnt orange color characteristic of saffron. Any adulterants, for example fabric threads soaked in turmeric or even safflower threads, will not do the same.
How and when to use:
Saffron is a special spice that imparts a warm golden orange hue to all dishes where it is used. If you have determined that your saffron is good quality, make a Kashmiri Green Tea from your testing bowl or drink up the water, which is perfectly safe. If it is less than perfect, you will know to pick out the good strands from the bad ones and use them in your recipe until you are ready to purchase a new box. Add it toward the end of a cooking process to ensure that its medicinal properties are held within and not lost to the heat. Saffron is used in both sweet and savory preparations.
Simplest application? A warm mug of Cardamom Milk!
What part to use:
Saffron comes in tiny snuff-box sized containers. They look like threads, and are the pistil / stigma of the Crocus flower. All contents of the box, including saffron thread crumbs are used.
Saffron in Ayurveda:
Saffron has been widely used for thousands of years for both culinary and medicinal applications. According to Ayurveda, Saffron is one of the most potent spices that can cure or help heal dozens of ailments. It has a bitter taste and is warming to the body. Practitioners of holistic medicine will caution users to limit the consumption of saffron as it can have adverse effects. Excessive use of saffron can cause impotency in men and adversely affect expectant women. So, even if you are the Shah of Persia, unless you are making a pot of something for 300 people, please do not add the entire box of saffron into your sauce. The serving size for saffron is 1/16th of a teaspoon. Yes, that is less than a pinch.