Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, known for its intense colour and aroma when added to food. If added in its dry, natural state as the stamens of the saffron flower, release of colour and aroma is limited. Usual preparation, therefore involves grinding the stamens to a near-powder form, which is time-consuming and can be wasteful. Others have attempted to create an infusion of saffron strands in oil; this technique extracts only a small amount of colour from saffron and adds little value to a typical cooking process, as the colour or the aroma is lost by the time food is cooked. It is thus a highly inefficient way of utilizing this precious spice.
We have developed a unique method of storing ground saffron in suspension with olive oil, or other edible oils with patent pending. This will eliminate the need for the cook/chef to prepare it in advance for use in a typical saffron spiced recipe and avoid wastage. It also maximises colour and aroma release, making ‘Saffron Oil’ an efficient and highly effective way to use saffron in cooking.
We would anticipate the user of this oil adding this in the beginning of the cooking process to maximum saffron colour output; whilst for its maximum aroma output they would add extra amount towards the end of the cooking process. Therefore, with this technique the same saffron oil can be used for efficiently maximizing both colour and aroma to the cooking process.
What is Saffron
Saffron is an extremely expensive spice. It can be spicy with a slightly bitter taste in large quantities and must, therefore, be used sparingly. Although saffron has a strong and pleasant flavour, it is mainly used for its colour, adding a bright golden-yellow tint to the food. This is where the "paella valenicana" and many Indian and middle-eastern dishes obtain their typical bright yellow colour. Use of good quality saffron will also impart a distinctive aroma, a quality that makes it a popular choice in sophisticated cuisines and it is thus used by Michelin star chefs around the world.
The spice is obtained from the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), an autumn-flowering perennial plant with lilac/purple coloured petals. If you look at a saffron crocus close-up, you will see three crimson strands in the centre of the flower. These strands, or stigmas, are the un-dried saffron threads that are used in cooking.
The saffron stigmas can only be picked by hand. It takes 225,000 stigmas to make up 1lb of saffron spice. As there are only three stigmas to each flower, approximately 75,000 flowers are needed to make up this small amount, explaining why the spice is so expensive.
Traditional methods of storing and using Saffron
The vast majority of chefs use saffron strands, as opposed to ground saffron. Claims are that “ground saffron is inferior in quality and may be mixed with cheaper spices to lower the cost”. This typical recommendation stems from doubts over the quality of available ground saffron, and not because there is any inherent inferiority of the ground product. Moreover, it can be difficult to apply the correct amount of such an expensive and concentrated spice in its ground form. Excessive amounts will be wasteful, and the resulting strong flavour will not appeal to all palates.
Saffron should be stored in an airtight container and kept in a dark, dry place. It is sometimes wrapped in aluminium foil to protect it from exposure to light. It stays fresh for three to six months, although it can be kept for much longer, it will decrease in quality with age, as with most herbs and spices. For this reason, methods are sought that can prolong its life and simplify its storage.
There are several basic methods of preparing saffron prior to use in a recipe. The most common is to soak a pinch of saffron in a cup of warm water for at least 20 minutes, or up to 12 hours. On coming into contact with the water, the saffron threads expand and release their flavour, after which it can be added to the required dish. Other liquids may also be used to soak the spice, for example stock, wine or milk.
Another method is to crush the saffron into a powder, using a pestle and mortar, before adding it to the dish directly. Alternatively, the crushed saffron can be steeped first in hot water, milk or wine before adding it to chicken, lamb, rice or other foods. In some recipes, such as the "paella valenciana", it is recommended that the saffron is first toasted and then ground into a powder before being added it to the dish.
Most of these are ancient techniques that have been practiced for centuries, and are well suited to the cuisines of the countries from which they originate. For example in the Middle-East, it is very commonly used to give a golden-yellow hue to rice by first being ground, added to a small quantity of boiling water and then tossed into the top layers of steamed white rice.
The problems with traditional techniques of storing and using saffron
A common disadvantage to all the techniques described above is the necessary preparation time for the busy chef or home cook. Moreover, whatever tool is used, the saffron will have to first be washed, which may result in more wastage. Typically, at least 10 minutes or more is required to leave the spice in a hot liquid before adding to food. These approaches make using saffron as a spice impractical in the usual “Jamie Oliver style” of 30 minute cooking.
Some chefs/cooks attempt to avoid the problem of preparation time by simply taking a pinch of saffron and adding it to food during the cooking process. Unfortunately, this method is extremely wasteful as the saffron threads will not have had sufficient time to release their flavour, aroma or colour. We estimate that this method only utilizes about 10% of the flavour capacity of saffron by weight. In addition, lack of proper temperature control may cause the saffron strands either burn or fuse with the surrounding textured ingredients.
How 'Saffron Olive Oil' can help
- Easy storage of saffron
- Easy and time saving application of saffron in any cooking scenarios without the traditional time wastage in preparing saffron.
- Maximum release of colour in cooking when applied in early part of the cooking
- Maximum release of aroma in cooking when applied towards the last few minutes of cooking
- Minimum wastage throughout the process to conserve this expensive spice, making it cost efficient for use
Advanced Home Grade Saffron Olive Oil
This grade is typically using 2 grams of saffron in 250 ml of cold pressed virgin olive oil. The result is a fantastic product that can be used for a typical recipe that is using traditional saffron for home use or a typical home dinner party.
Advanced Restaurant Grade Saffron Olive Oil
This grade is best used in restaurant environments that require multiple dishes to go out in succession and therefore high concentration of Saffron may help the cooking process.