Yesterday I was taken to buy saffron by my wonderful friend, Maryam Abdallah, Qatar’s first TV chef and a wonderful cook and educator. On the way, she gave me a wonderful tip on how to make sure I am buying real saffron which I thought I would pass on. Now, you probably don’t need to know this if you are buying saffron pre-packed by the gram but you better know it if you are going to buy saffron in industrial quantities the way they do in the souk. It’s very simple. All you need to do is ask the vendor for 3 or 4 threads of saffron which you put on your tongue and suck on for a few seconds. You then spit the threads out onto a clean tissue and rub them inside the tissue. If they colour it yellow, you know you are buying real saffron. If they colour it red, you are being sold coloured threads that have nothing to do with saffron. I wish my friend who recently brought me tons of saffron from Morocco knew this because he would have avoided buying a whole lot of fake saffron with only a few real threads in between for the smell! The top picture is of how they sell saffron here in Qatar, bunched up in ‘bouquets’ of 10 grams and below is a picture of my test to make sure I was not being sold fake saffron!
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!