Saffron is a spice used mainly as a seasoning in dishes like curries, risottos and fish dishes, but is also used as a food colouring agent. It’s the world’s most expensive spice by weight, owing to the number of plants needed to harvest a modest amount. Saffron is thought to be native to the Mediterranean and parts of Asia, but is grown widely across Iran, as well as parts of Spain, France, Italy and India.
Saffron strands are the stigmas of the saffron crocus, Crocus sativus. While they’re easy to grow you’ll need to buy a lot of saffron bulbs – around 150 flowers will produce one gram of saffron. Saffron crocuses flower in autumn.
How to grow saffron
Saffron crocus bulbs are widely available from mail-order bulb and seed companies. Plant them in summer in moist but well-drained soil and water well. To harvest the saffron strands, simply remove using tweezers, and dry them before using them to add delicate colour and flavour to a range of dishes.
Advice on buying Crocus sativus bulbs
- Buy as many saffron crocus bulbs as you can afford or have space for, as you’ll need a lot of crocus flowers to produce a teaspoon of saffron strands
- Always check bulbs for signs of damage or disease before planting
Where to buy saffron bulbs
More on growing crocus:
You Will Need
- Saffron crocus bulbs (Crocus sativus)
Plant the saffron crocus bulbs in late summer, in pots or borders, in a warm, sunny spot. Space them 15cm apart, at a depth of about 10cm, then firm down the soil and water in well.
When the crocuses flower in autumn, harvest the saffron strands by removing the long, bright orange-red stigmas from the centre of the flowers using tweezers. Each flower produces just three stigmas, so harvest them carefully.
Lay out the harvested stigmas on a paper towel to dry out thoroughly for a few days in a warm, dry place, then store in an air-tight container. Use sparingly in a wide range of dishes, both savoury and sweet, where they will add colour and flavour.