Harvested by hand from saffron flowers, saffron has a reputation as one of the priciest spices available. Prized for its delicate flavor, saffron threads are a frequent addition to rice dishes across the world, such as pilafs, paellas, and risottos.
Saffron is available as whole "threads" or stigma, or ground into a powder. Each variety has a different shelf life. Ground saffron is more delicate, and lasts 3 to 6 months after purchase. It is also less potent than saffron threads, but it's easier to use. Saffron threads should be prepared before use in a recipe, either by soaking or grinding into a powder.
Whole saffron threads last much longer than ground saffron, if properly stored. They have a shelf life of up to 3 years. However, buyers should exercise caution when buying saffron to ensure they are buying, pure, high-quality saffron for best results. Some shops dilute or cut their saffron with turmeric.
Though many prize Spanish saffron, the country of origin is irrelevant to the quality. Good saffron may come from Greece, Iran, and India as well.
Pure saffron retains its quality best if stored tightly-packed in its original container. The container should be airtight, and the saffron should be kept in a cool, dry place.