Your cart:
You have 0 item items in your cart
View cart
Total Price
Have a question? Click here to Ask a Chef


Common Name

Latin Name Family Country/Origin
Crocus sativus Iridaceae The Mediterranean

Cultivated for more than 4,000 years in the Mediterranean, saffron was used as a culinary and medicinal spice, as well as a dye. Saffron pigments have been found on prehistoric walls dating back 50,000 years.  Saffron is also grown in the Kashmir region of India, where it is known as Kesar orZaffran.

Known as an aphrodisiac in Egypt, Cleopatra would add it to her baths prior to romantic endeavors. Throughout his travels, Cleopatra's brother Alexander the Great would add Persian saffron to his rice and would bath in saffron infused water to help heal battle wounds.

In ancient Rome, saffron was used to scent luxurious private and public baths. and the Romans enjoyed saffron so much they took it with them as they colonized Europe. The cultivation of saffron followed the colonization of Rome as it spread throughout Europe. Rosemary flourished for many years until the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Dark Ages. Saffron returned to Europe when 14th century crusaders brought a bulb back from Asia.

Saffron had been used throughout Asia since before 500 BC as both a culinary and medicinal ingredient and as a dye.

When the Black Plague took over Europe, medicine made from saffron became a sought after commodity and even led to the Saffron War in 1374 between Austria and the independent city of Basle. War ensued when a shipment of curative saffron from Italy was stolen.

Eventually saffron cultivation spread to other parts of Europe, and although now widely available is still the world's most expensive spice by weight. Saffron comes from Crocus sativus, a plant belonging to the iris family that will reach heights of approximately 25 cm. Saffron is very expensive because it takes 225,000 stigmas to make a single pound of the spice. What's more is that all flowers must be picked by hand and then the stigmas removed and dried. Saffron resembles orangey-red thread and smells of honey with hints of metal and grass.

Saffron received its name from the ancient French term safran which comes from the Latin word safranum which comes from the Arab word for yellow. When saffron is added to dishes it imparts a warm yellow/orange color. The taste of saffron is mild and reminiscent of honey, but with pungent undertones and slight bitterness.

Purported Medicinal Qualities*

Although saffron has been used medicinally for thousands of years, large doses can be toxic. However the amounts used in cooking are so minute that toxicity should not be a concern. Saffron in small amounts can be used to treat many health problems and recent research suggest it may even help prevent the growth of tumors.

Historically, saffron has been used to:

  • Induce sleep
  • Promote Relaxation
  • Improve circulation
  • Calm nerves
  • Aid digestion
  • Sooth aching joint and aching teeth - applied topically in petroleum jelly
  • Relieve muscle cramps
  • Reduce fever
  • As an anti-oxidant

*Always check with your healthcare provider before consuming, inhaling or otherwise ingesting any non-prescription or prescription natural or homeopathic substance or pharmaceutical. is not recommending, suggesting, inferring or otherwise endorsing the use of any herb or spice as a medication.

Culinary/Suggested Use

Prized for its brilliant color and intoxicating smell, saffron is popular in Middle Eastern, Asian and Mediterranean cuisines. Saffron is often used in risottos and is a staple ingredient in Spain's paella and France's bouillabaisse. Saffron can also be added to many baked goods, but should be added to any dish sparingly as a little goes a long way and too much will impart a medicinal taste.

Soak strands in a small amount of hot milk or water and then add liquid and saffron to the dish, or grind strands into a powder. Do not add saffron threads directly to a dish. Always purchase whole threads as powdered saffron is often compromised in some way and may contain fillers.  Food for thought:

  • Add a pinch of saffron to risotto, rice or pasta
  • Add a few threads of saffron to tomato based soups or sauces
  • Use saffron to add delicate color and flavor to homemade bread or pizza dough
  • Before grinding, lightly toast saffron strands in a dry pan over low heat

view other A-Z Spices