Zafaran | All about Saffron

Persina mortar and pestle (havan) and a package of persian saffron threads on a paisely termeh cloth background | (Persian Cooking and culture blog)

Persian saffron threads in a package with silver measuring spoon | (Persian Cooking and Culture blog)

[This post scheduled to publish while I’m on my Epic Trip to Iran, part 2.]

Saffron (called za’faran زعفران in Farsi) is a lovely spice. It adds color, flavor and fragrance to food; and to top it off, saffron boasts an incredible range of health benefits as well, including acting as an appetite stimulant and digestive aid.

Adding to the lure and allure of saffron is that it is harvested from pretty, purple crocus flowers. No one could invent a cooler, more gorgeous packaging! Nature is the supreme artist. Divine, one might even say! 😉

basket of purple saffron crocus flowers from Kashmir | @FigandQuince (Persian food culture blog)

The Purple Saffron Crocus of Kashmir | Source: @Freejust1

Isn’t this photo a beautiful vision? The image is courtesy of @Freejust1, a Twitter friend who harvested these beauties from his own garden in Kashmir. (A Kashmiri garden that has a fairy tale view of mountains by the way! Remember from the post about azgil aka loquat? Scroll down to see!)

Saffron Crocus Flowering Plant | Cloisters Garden, New York, 2013 | (Persian Cooking and Culture blog)

Saffron Crocus Flowering Plants | Cloisters Garden, New York, 2013

Here’s a photo of saffron crocus plants growing in the beautiful gardens of The Cloisters in New York. (An enchanted corner of New York City that you must visit.) The Cloisters gardens also boast of pear and quince trees! Very pretty.

If you ever get a chance to look closely at saffron flowers you will detect that nestled inside the crocus flower’s pretty purple leaves are 3 fragile crimson colored antennas — I call them antennas but they are properly called “stigmas”– which when harvested will become 3 saffron threads. No stigma in this game!

Can you now then venture a guess as to why saffron is so expensive? Plucking flowers by hand and carefully separating the 3 saffron stigmas to harvest just 3 saffron threads takes a good bit of time; and it takes a heap of delicate saffron threads to make just yek mesgal (tiny bit) of zafaran. How many flowers does it take to produce just one pound of saffron? “Something like 50,000 flowers!” [Source] Isn’t that something? And that, my friends, is why saffron is the world’s most expensive spice. But: worth every riyal and dinero and dollar and pence!

Don’t you wish you could grow your own pretty crocus plants and harvest saffron? I surely wish I could plant a field of dreamy purple haze.  [I love this blog post about someone who did just that and planted saffron crocus and harvested saffron threads.]

saffron thread, saffron water shown being used on stove to making persian food |

With its diverse utility and stunning and alluring aesthetic lure, it makes sense why saffron is beloved globally in nearly every culture’s cuisines. One example being the cuisine of Kashmir where per our friend @Freejust1 (who bestowed that beautiful photo of saffron flowers above) saffron is used in kehwa, tea without milk, in halwa, and also in many preparations of mutton.

Saffron is of course a treasured staple ingredient and cornerstone of Persian cuisine – in some ways synonymous with Persian food. Nothing beats the glorious aroma of saffron-laced Persian food spreading its heavenly angel wings in the kitchen; or the gorgeous crimson color that saffron so generously bestows upon food at first touch; and of course nothing rivals the crowning glory of saffron in Persian cooking: fluffy crimson-crowned Persian saffron-scented rice.

Green goblet filled with dense creamy Persian rosewater and saffron ice cream in Iranian cafe, Tehran, Iran, 2014 | (Persian cooking and culture blog)

Dense & creamy saffron & rosewater Persian ice cream | Tehran, Iran 2014

Myriad Persian recipes (not just rice dishes but everything from dessert to stews to caramelized onions to Persian ice cream) count saffron as a vital ingredient.

The foundational first step of using saffron in any and all Persian recipes starts with 1) grinding saffron into a fine powder and then 2) making ab ‘e zafaran or saffron water,

Both are quite easy to do once you’ve seen how it’s done. Let’s check out a few homemade videos on “how to grind saffron” and “how to make saffron water” and for good measure, I’ll also include a very simple recipe for making saffron tea.

How to Grind Saffron

You know what I love about grinding saffron? The wonderfully enticing ensuing aroma. I also love the soothing rhythmic soundtrack when grinding saffron in a traditional Persian ha’van (pestle and mortar.)  In the video below check out my little nephew grinding saffron in a darling mini Persian havan with his darling wee hands.

(I scored this cute little “ha’van” in Isfahan on a trip with my lovely aunt. I must, must, must write soon all about Isfahan.)

Would you like to see a grown up version of grinding saffron? Why you are in luck and here’s Laya in LA LA Land show you!

Laya’s tip for grinding saffron: To finely grind saffron threads in a mortar and pestle Laya recommends that you add a sugar cube to it. This is a trick Laya learned from her mother – Mrs. Lavassani – an accomplished lady who started a school called Honarestan in Tehran. (The very same school where Roza Montazemi, a revered Iranian cookbook author, was one of her students.)

How to Make Saffron Water

Making saffron water (dissolving ground saffron in hot water) is one of the steps in countless Persian food recipes. Nothing is easier. Would you like to see how to do it? Watch Laya!

As you can see, all you need to do to make saffron water it dissolve a bit of ground saffron in hot water and brew for at least 10 or so minutes to release its color, flavor and aroma. Easy breezy!

How to Make a Quick Saffron Tea

To take advantage of the many health benefits of saffron, it makes sense to partake of saffron as often as possible, ideally on a daily basis. But who has time to make Persian saffron-kissed rice every day? A good, healthy, and easy way to get your saffron fix is to make saffron tea. Here’s how:

Make tea as usual in a teapot and add 1/3 teaspoon ground saffron. Brew for 10 minutes and you’ll have a wonderful and fragrant saffron tea. I drink this w/out sugar but if you’d like, it goes well with nabat or a cube of sugar. You know what else goes great with saffron tea? A COOKIE!

nabat (Persian rock candy) , cookie and Persian tea cup, cafe in Tehran, Iran | (Persian Cooking and Culture blog)

almond cardamom cookies and saffron rock candy

And that’s it folks!

Khoda hafez till we meet again and may until then & forever more your kitchens be imbued with the heavenly scent of saffron!


daffodile graphic icon illustrated digital illustration

[ps To follow along my excellent journey as I travel on my second epic trip to Iran (and please do!) there’s Twitter, my personal Facebook page, Fig & Quince’s Facebook page, and Instagram .]


9 thoughts on “Zafaran | All about Saffron

  1. Awesome post..what are those little cookies called? They look familiar. I love the slightly tangy taste of zaferan. It is by far my most favorite spice.

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