Saffron or Za’faran and what to do with it


Saffron or za’ferân is a delicate spice derived from the crocus flower. Widely used in the east it is a much under used spice in the west. It has many medicinal qualities and is said to help ward off depression and make you laugh… that can’t be bad! The ancient Persians were feared by their enemies as they developed a reputation  for using it  as a drug to sedate and as an aphrodisiac . Alexandra the Great is reputed to have stolen the idea from the Persians and used Persian za’feran in his baths, for his food and as a cure for battle injuries. No doubt he tried it with the ladies too. Other uses include help with child-birth, as a dye and as a cure for headaches.

Saffron is widely available and can be found in most supermarkets. There is a large amount of Spanish saffron on the market but I recommend you buy a high grade saffron such as Iranian za’faran as its colour and scent is much stronger and you will therefore use less of it. Most Iranian grocery stores stock it but I have to warn you, its expensive.  If you don’t live within access to an Iranian grocery store, try an indian one.

~STORAGE OF SAFFRON~ What ever you do, you must store it in a cool, dark airtight container otherwise the colour and scent of the za’faran will diminish.Never leave it on the shelf or it will be almost useless and taste less.

~PREPARATION OF SAFFRON~ I usually grind mine in a pestle and mortar as I need it. However many cooks grind it in advance. I don’t think there is any advantage either way. If the meal you are cooking is sweet, such as Khoreshte Fesenjun, use a tiny pinch of sugar to help grind it down but otherwise use a tiny pinch of salt. Once your za’faran is ground to a powdery like substance it is ready for use.

~TO MAKE LIQUID SAFFRON~Take a pinch of za’faran and place it in a small cup. Add a little boiling water and stir and then cover and allow to infuse for at least 30 minutes. The longer you leave it, the richer the color. Once you’ve made liquid zafaran you can keep it in the fridge for about 2-3 days, but cover it with cling film first!

Za’faran is used every day  in Iranian cooking not only to enhance the flavour of the food but also for decoration. Its used in a variety of dishes across every meal.  I even place a tiny pinch of it when I make chai ( black and flavoured tea) …. a cup of za’faran infused chai everyday can help ward off depressive thinking.  It certainly cheers me up as it soooo delicious. You can also use za’faran  flavoured ‘nabat’, a sugar candy used to sweeten chai. Nabat can be bought at most Iranian grocery stores. Unfortunately this isn’t widely available and I have not yet seen it in a supermarket in the west.

DECORATIVE USES ~ Most Iranians use za’faran to decorate and flavour rice dishes. I often use it in throughout the cooking process and as for a decorative finish. This is a picture of Zereshk Polou, steamed Iranian rice with zereshk ( barberries and slithers of almonds)  and I will feature the recipe soon.

Za’faran has a huge number of uses in an Iranian kitchen. It’s an essential and fundamental feature of Iranian cooking.


11 thoughts on “Saffron or Za’faran and what to do with it

  1. I came across your blog today…while i was serfing persian food. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE it. I am from India but grew up in Iran.we left Iran when I was 10 and i so miss the Persian dishes.Its the most delicious cuisine in the world 🙂

    1. Hi Sandra Im so pleased you found me then 🙂 I hope you will re connect with your childhood and enjoy all those wonderful dishes again. Any thing you want to know just keep in touch 🙂

  2. I love your blog. I was searching for gormhe sabzi recipes and yours seems by far the most delicious and easiest to follow…am making it tonight, can’t wait. I will be back to try more of your recipes. Thanks!!

  3. l love watching Shah’s of Sunset on Bravo. All the food makes my mouth water. Asa mother’s is making Tadig and that’s the first dish I tried. I love rice and though it taste great I’m not cooking it correctly. I logged on this site and realize theirs more to preparing Tadig. This evening I’m preparing it again taking all of the steps for the golden crisps topping. All of the food looks delicious so far I’ve eaten Tadig with a saiad but I plan to continue using more Persian and Iranian recipes.

    Eating Healthier foods-Paula.

    1. I’m very pleased that you enjoy Persian food …that’s fab!! I don’t watch Snags of sunset as I’m in the UK but I have heard of it!! no doubt the food is delicious!! traditionally tahdig is served with rice and khoresht but any way you like it is good!! follow my recipe for tahdig with zibzamini (potato) !!you will love it …everyone does!!

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