All About Saffron

A few months ago I was sitting in the break room with a co-worker and he told me that he was interested in growing Saffron.  He and his wife had taken a class on making paella.  They were so in love with it, he was interested in growing his own saffron rather than buying it.  I, of course, sat there stunned-wondering why I had never even considered growing saffron.  It’s absolutely gorgeous.

Photo courtesy of Bloomingbulb.com

Saffron has a slightly-sweet earthy taste that enhances with seafood, chicken, rice, pasta and breads.  Retail cost varies widely, I found prices from $75 an ounce to $150 per .25 ounces.  Ouch.

Saffron is the stigmata (lady parts) of a fall-flowering crocus called crocus sativus.    Hmmm…when I’ve bought it for recipes (like 3 times in my life) it’s been yellow right out of the jar.  There could be a few reasons for this.  1.  Lower grades of saffron come from the lower part of the stigma and are more yellow.   2.  The stamen of the saffron crocus is yellow and they were selling me the man junk and the lady business of the flower.  3.  They added tumeric to aid in supplying yellow color associated with saffron.  So while the saffron gives off a yellow color in recipes, the threads are actually red.  Usually in spice jars it’s wrapped in paper to protect it from light, so you can’t always see what you’re buying.  This probably accounts for the big price difference.  High quality saffron threads look like this when dried:

Saffron Threads from gourmet-delights.com

So here is the skinny on growing saffron crocus.  They are hardy in zones 6-9 but can be lifted and brought in for the winter in colder climes.  Saffron like well drained soil and in some areas they only plant them in raised beds to help with drainage.  Look for a spot with full sun to part shade.  Plant 3-4 inches deep, 6 inches apart.  Corms can be planted in the spring, but you wont get a good harvest your first year, since the roots didn’t have time to establish in the fall.  Most of the suppliers I found ship saffron crocus in late summer to fall for planting.  Your saffron crocus will break ground in spring but not  flower until September and October.  You get to pick the little red threads out of them.  Picture yourself with a magnifying glass, tweezers, and a itty bitty jar to hold your bounty.  Harvesting the threads doesn’t hurt the flower.  Dry them then store away from light.  Whole threads maintain flavor the best.

I’m posting this a bit early to give you time to look in your garden and see if you have any saffron crocus, maybe you planted some without knowing or inherited some from the previous owner of your garden.  If not, you can start looking for corms from your favorite gardening store.

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