If you've eaten paella, then you've certainly tasted the eccentric flavor of saffron, the dried, threadlike flower stigmas with an unlike-anything-else flavor. It's distinct, warming to the senses, and releases a brilliant sunset-yellow color.
While it has shone in centuries past, in many modern kitchens it's underutilized, perhaps because it's one of the most expensive ingredients out there. But there's good reason for that. The tiny stigmas are mostly harvested by hand, and it takes just under 80,000 blossoms to produce 1 pound of this spice. But you generally need only a generous pinch in order to get both the color and flavor you want in your food.
Which is why it's so worth the splurge. In recent months it's become my favorite ingredient to play around with in the kitchen. Once I started adding it to my dishes, I became obsessed. I used it in a fish dish, then in a cauliflower rice recipe, and then I got really out there, and added it to dessert. Heaven.
What got me into saffron, aside from its flavor, are its purported health benefits. Crocin, a carotenoid in saffron, is believed produce an antidepressant effect by aiding serotonin production. Crocin also has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties.
As far as I see it, saffron is the new turmeric. Here are new ways to incorporate it into your cooking: