Jim McKenney
Sun, 30 Oct 2005 19:11:45 PST
Diane asked how long saffron remains flavorful.

I don't know the answer, but I do have two relevant experiences. 

When I first grew saffron I had no culinary experience of it. But I was very
curious, so I plucked the styles and saved them in a paper envelope. The
envelope was labeled and dated. I never used it for cooking, but found it
about a decade later. I soaked the by-then thoroughly dry styles in warm
water, but little of the expected orange color appeared. 

On the other hand, there is that 1 ounce tin of saffron I bought a few years
ago. That saffron is still fine for cooking, and quickly colors warm water
or broth. That has been stored in the refrigerator. 

I've tried very hard to learn to like the taste of saffron, but to tell the
truth, if I use enough of it to be able to taste it, I usually don't
particularly like it. 

I sometimes use it when making a risotto, or use it in some broths, and also
in some baked goods (biscotti for instance) I make. These biscotti, flavored
with saffron, orange zest, golden raisins and aniseed, have a very
sophisticated, old-world taste (or so I imagine). 

The culinary historians I've read seem to believe that saffron was
introduced to the west as a coloring agent, not as an article of diet. 

To paraphrase an old saying, it was a brave man who first tasted saffron. 

Or maybe not: presumably it's been used in Indian cuisine for millennia. But
Indian cuisine uses substances not often thought of as edible in the west:
think for instance of those preparations which use gold leaf. 

Several years ago an Indian friend went to the trouble of preparing for me a
special Indian sweet from her home state. She knew of my interest in food
and in particular of my interest in the ingredients of food. So as I tasted
the preparation, she challenged me to guess the ingredients. I did,
correctly, except for one. The one I was reluctant to say: it was a taste I
did not associate with food at all. It was the taste of the smell of moth
balls. Finally I meekly, almost apologetically, suggested camphor. 

Yes, it was camphor! 

A cuisine which finds camphor tasty probably would not have any problem with

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7, where the camphor is in the
closet, not in the kitchen. 

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