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4min read

A Guide To Cooking With Saffron, The World's Most Expensive Spice

by Toni Olukiran

4min read

Wondering what saffron is and how to cook with it? We’ve got you covered. Check out this guide for everything you need to know about this amazingly versatile spice, complete with vegan saffron dishes that you pretty much have to try.

Fun fact alert: Saffron is considered more precious than gold. In fact, it's valued as three times more precious and it's clear why — these magic strands give dishes an unmistakable, hard-to-describe flavour that's like nothing else. 90% of saffron is grown in Iran, which is why it is integral to Iranian cuisine. It is also grown and harvested in Italy, Spain and Greece, which is why it’s also prevalent in Mediterannean dishes too. 

Why is Saffron so expensive?

saffron flower

It is the world’s most expensive spice because it needs to be handpicked, making it one of the most labour-intensive plants to harvest in the world. Coming from the crocus sativus flower, there are only a couple of strands per flower. So it's a good thing that when cooking with saffron, a little goes a long way. Used commonly in Iranian jewelled rice, Spanish paellas, French bouillabaisse, and Milanese risotto, only a few strands are necessary in order to flavour the dish with its wonderful floral and earthy taste. 

What to know about buying saffron

You can also buy powdered saffron, but this can sometimes be mixed with paprika, turmeric or chilli, which lessens the flavour. If you’re looking to buy saffron for a dish, and you opt for powder, make sure that it is pure saffron that has simply been dried and ground. 

If you’re buying the strands, look for saffron grown in Spain or Iran for some of the best quality and most potent versions of the spice. The strands should be thin and a deep red rather than yellow. The best way of cooking with it is to put it in liquid, be it a stock, a marinade or a soup, to ensure that the strands release all of its honeyed flavour. 

Vegan recipes using Saffron 

Saffron risotto

risotto in bowl on patterned background

This saffron risotto is a veganised version of the Milanese classic. With good quality saffron and an umami vegetable stock, this dish is a true delight, perfect as a comfort food or to present to friends and family at parties and special occasions. It’s rich, decadent, creamy, and completely plant-based!

Vegan paella 

vegan paella on plate with green background

The bread and butter of a good paella is a rich stock, fragrant paprika and quality saffron. With all of this, you will be rewarded with a deeply savoury and flavourful paella and you’ll be scraping the bottom of the pan for more — which, of course, is the best bit. I have seen (far too many times) Spaniards fight for the socarrat, the caramelised paella at the bottom of the pan. And who could blame them?!


By Toni Olukiran
Toni Olukiran

Toni is one of our lovely Content Marketing Assistants, and when she’s not writing posts about everything from Jamaican cooking to vegan champagne, she’s making a Spotify playlist (she was at 200, at her last count) or playing tennis in the park.

Read more from Toni

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