Have you ever wondered about an ingredient you've seen in certain recipes? Have you seen the term saffron and wondered? When you find it in the store, you see a few yellowish/reddish stands for an absurd amount of money? Several years ago, I finally researched why this particular spice is so expensive.
Well to start with, saffron are the stamens of a finicky crocus who is particular about its climate and whose crop is unpredictable. It turns out this crocus only blooms for one week a year and produces only 3 stamen that must be handpicked and carefully dried. Imagine only 3 thin stamen a year!
It takes about 150 stamens to make a single gram of saffron. Just as a reference there are about 28 grams in an ounce so it takes 150 stamen to make 1/28th of an ounce which is very, very, little. This is why the real stuff is so expensive. A pound of saffron goes for between $2000 and $10,000. If you see a 2 ounce bag for $5.00, its going to be fake so leave it alone.
When you shop for saffron, look for Iranian or Spanish saffron. Iranian saffron is considered the best because of the dark red color and its unique smell but it is not easy to get due to embargoes, local bans, and its cultivation. So a good choice would be Spanish saffron which is more available and strictly regulated to the point that it is divided into grades. If it has the designation Superior, Rio, La Mancha, or coupe, then you are looking at the best saffron produced in Spain but coupe is considered the best of the best.
Do not buy ground saffron because it is usually cut with turmeric, paprika or other things. The unique saffron flavor dissipates quickly. If you are dealing with a merchant you've never used before, see if you can get a sample of the saffron to test. If you drop the strands into a small bowl of warm water and the water turns yellow and the threads retain their shape, it is the real thing. If it turns murky or the threads fray, its had something added to it.
When you buy it, make sure it is sold in an airtight container rather than a plastic bag because you want the saffron to retain its flavor when you cook with it. When cooking with it, use a small amout in dishes that take a while to cook so the flavor develops properly. Its traditionally used in Paella, certain rice dishes, bouillabaisse, and other specialties.
Hope you learned something from this because I did. Enjoy.