Saffron is an important spice in Spanish cooking and has been utilized in Spain for over a thousand years. Originally from Asia, saffron was first brought to Spain during the Moorish invasion. Saffron is cultivated from the stigma of the saffron crocus and is labour-intensive to harvest; a single flower will produce only three to four stigmas and these stigmas must be collected by hand. As a result, by weight, saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world. Globally, the majority of saffron is produced in Iran, however, Spain produces a small amount of saffron, which is grown in the middle of the country in the Castilla-La Mancha region between Madrid and Valencia. Spain’s most well known saffron-based dish, paella, comes from this region.
To most of the world, paella is synonymous with Spain. To Spaniards, however, paella is synonymous with Valencia. This iconic dish needs only a pinch of saffron to achieve the bright color it is known for. Saffron imparts not only a vibrant orange hue to foods, but it also provides a sweet, honey-like flavor that is akin to the aroma of dried hay. Our recipe for paella calls for a generous pinch of saffron, which is the perfect sweet contrast to the salty and savory flavors in the chorizo, chicken, and shrimp. Be sure to buy and use your saffron quickly; like most herbs, saffron is most flavorful and vibrant when fresh. Armed with our recipe and a little saffron, you can prepare a taste of Valencia for yourself.