Seven Traditional (And Tasty) Saffron Uses

Saffron is not just the world’s most expensive spice, it is the world’s most expensive food. The high cost stems from how much work it takes to harvest it. Saffron threads are the stamens of the crocus flower. Cooks prize them for their earthy, nutty flavor and bright yellow color. To get the most from your saffron investment, use it in:

Rice dishes

Saffron shines in dishes with mild flavors, which is why so many rice recipes require it. Rice is the perfect blank slate for the delicate flavors of saffron but only if you use the spice in moderation. Saffron requires constant heat and moisture to release its flavor and color; you also need constant heat and moisture to cook rice properly, which is why it is such a great saffron vehicle. Among the famous saffron and rice dishes are:


Risotto is an Italian rice dish that most likely came from Spain. A great risotto depends on two things: its texture and the flavor of saffron. You achieve the texture with the technique of constantly stirring the rice while it cooks. The same method helps to break up and separate the saffron strands and allows them to release more flavor.


Biryani is an Indian rice dish with roots in Persia. It features several whole and ground spices along with spice blends like garam masala. Saffron is one of those spices. Saffron’s mild flavor pairs well with that of the other spices while bringing an appetizing yellow color to the dish.


Saffron is one of the essential ingredients for authentic paella. Paella is a Spanish rice dish known for the bright yellow color it gets from saffron threads. Like the other rice dishes, it gets much of its distinctive flavor profile from saffron.


Other words for pulao include pilau and pilaf. All refer to yet another Indian rice dish. Pulao features meat, rice, and vegetables. The difference between biryani and pulao is that the latter is a true one-pot dish; a biryani is not. In a biryani, you cook the ingredients separately at first and then finish them together.


Provence on France’s Mediterranean coast is the home of bouillabaisse, one of the iconic French dishes. Some sources consider bouillabaisse a soup, others consider it a stew. In either case, this brightly colored dish is famous for its hearty combination of seafood flavored with saffron and other spices. The classic version uses a combination of saffron, fennel, and orange.

Ice cream

Saffron is one of those spices that work well in both sweet and savory dishes. Saffron ice cream is Persian and is called bastani in Farsi. Most versions include rose water along with the saffron. The saffron gives an earthy background note to rose water’s strong floral flavor. Saffron ice cream is — as you may have guessed —  a brilliant yellow, a color it gets from saffron and from egg yolks used in the base.


One of the lesser-known facts about saffron is that you can use it to make tea. People consume it this way mainly for its health benefits. Saffron tea is said to be an effective antidepressant and may help to lower blood pressure and protect against heart disease. The tea consists of saffron threads steeped in hot water for about 20 minutes.