Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, mainly because it takes about 150 croci to produce 1 gram of saffron. Each flower has 3 red stigmas (or stamens) that are attached to the plant by yellow styles. Normally, when you buy Spanish or Moroccan saffron you see some of the yellow styles mixed in with the saffron but not in Iran where they are kept separate, and even sold separately. I bought some of the cheaper yellow styles because I was intrigued, and they smelled almost as strong as the stamens. However, when I used some, I found that they had hardly any flavour. Also, they barely coloured my milk pudding. Not sure what I will do with my remaining stash. Perhaps mix it with the pure saffron? I guess it is not such a good idea!
Tomorrow is my second chef-in-residence session at Leighton House and it is all about spice mixtures including as ras el-hanout, a mixture of nearly 30 different spices including various chillies, dried roses, the aphrodisiac Spanish fly (for which use the marquis de Sade ended up in prison; the sad thing is I did have some given to me by Lulu Grimes but I don’t remember where I stashed them), cardamom, cloves, turmeric, cinnamon and ginger. Oddly enough ras el-hanout is not used that often, being added to some sweet-spicy tagines, game dishes and kefta. In winter people use it to make an infusion to cure colds because it has warming properties. Ras el-hanout means ‘head of the shop’ which reflects the value of its elaborate preparation. Its quality and composition vary from one spice merchant to another and from one family to the other. It is sold both in ground form or with the spices left whole as in the picture about, although you need to know your spices well to use the latter as you have to grind the right amount of each. You can find it in the West already ground and packed in small sealed jars or in plastic sachets but often the mixture you buy here is less complex relying heavily on more common spices.