Required in many traditional recipes around the world, saffron is an often overlooked and underappreciated spice in mainstream American cooking. Composed of the dried stigmas (the part of the flower that captures pollen) of the crocus sativus 
or saffron crocus, saffron stands as the most labor-intensive spice in the world. One pound of dried saffron may require hand-harvested stigmas of 50,000 to 75,000 flowers. No wonder it has the stigma of being so expensive! However, don’t let the price intimidate you; a little saffron goes a long way, and its unique flavor makes it rare and sought-after. Experience saffron around the world by trying some of these recipes.

Natalie Browning

Try these delicious recipes, and experience saffron for yourself.

Saffron and Raisin Couscous with Fresh Mint—Algeria

Couscous is the national dish of Algeria and the base of many of the country’s dishes.


2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon saffron
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups couscous
1/4 cup raisins
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped


  1. In a saucepan, bring the 2 cups of water to a boil, and add the saffron.
  2. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 30 minutes.
  3. Return the pan to the heat, return to a boil, and mix in the olive oil, salt, couscous, and raisins.
  4. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand for 30 minutes.
  5. Top with the fresh mint.

Makes 8 servings.

Steamed Clams in Garlic Saffron Broth—America
Martha Stewart

Incorporating ingredients and cook- ing techniques from around the world, this recipe embodies the American blending of cultures to cre- ate something unique and delicious.


Large pinch of saffron
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1/2 cup white grape juice or vegetable stock with a splash of white wine vinegar or lemon juice to help with deglazing
3 dozen littleneck clams
1 tomato, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 tablespoons chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley
Pinch of freshly ground pepper


  1. Crumble saffron into 1 cup of boiling water. Set aside to steep.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large, shallow saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and shallots, and cook until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add juice or stock, and stir to loosen any bits from pan. Add reserved saffron broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and add clams, chopped tomato, and half the chopped parsley. Stir to combine. Cover, and let steam until clams are opened, 10 to 12 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining parsley and pepper, and serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings.

Saffron Buns—Sweden

These buns are traditionally eaten to celebrate St. Lucia’s Day in Sweden (December 13). St. Lucia’s Day is a feast day accompanied by a festival to ensure light during the long, dark winter months in Scandinavia. The holiday also welcomes the Christmas season.


2 1/8 cups milk
1/2 cup butter
3 (0.6 ounce) cakes compressed fresh yeast
8 ounces quark or sour cream
2 (.5 gram) packets powdered saffron
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup raisins (optional)
1 egg, beaten


  1. Heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan until the butter has melted, and the temperature has reached 100 degrees F (38 degrees C). Crumble the yeast into a bowl, then pour in the warm milk. Stir well until the yeast dissolves.
  2. Stir in the quark, saffron, sugar, salt, and 7 cups of the flour. Mix the dough in the bowl until it becomes shiny and silky, adding more flour as needed until it begins to come away from the sides of the bowl. Cover, and let rise for 40 minutes.
  3. Prepare 2 or 3 baking sheets by covering each with a sheet of parchment paper. Lightly flour a work surface, punch down the dough, then divide into 35 pieces. Roll each piece into a rope 5 to 6 inches long. With the rope lying flat on the work surface, roll each end towards the center in opposite directions, creating a curled S-shape. Place the buns on the prepared baking sheets, and garnish with raisins, if desired. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise for an additional 30 minutes while preheating the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
  4. Gently brush each bun with beaten egg, then bake in the oven until puffed and golden, 5 to 10 minutes.

Makes 35 saffron buns.

Saffron Honey Lassi—India
Adrianna Adarne

A lassi is a popular, traditional Indian drink made with a blend of yogurt, water, and sugar. This saffron honey lassi is tart and sweet.

1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons, good-flavored honey (ex. wildflower honey)
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt
1/2 cup (low-fat or whole) milk


  1. In a medium skillet placed over low heat, crumble the saffron into the water, and let stand for 5 minutes.
  2. Add the honey and combine until dissolved. Add the yogurt and milk, whisk together.
  3. Refrigerate for 1 hour or until very cold. Divide between two medium glasses and serve.

Makes 1 drink.

—Hannah Vinchur