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Saffron and Spices: common questions and answers to help you get started

Common Questions and facts about saffron and other specialty spices

Yes; all of our products are ethically harvested and produced. Our team at Slofoodgroup works directly with small, community-based farmers and medium-sized operations that are cooperatives owned by the farmers. Farmers are paid directly and prices are set solely by the farmers.

We annually audit each operation through a series of checks and balances that include but are not limited to, legal documentation, record keeping on lots, safety data sheets, certifications, third party audits, letters of guarantee and randomized visits.

Members of our staff will stay on property for several weeks, learning the processes and building relationships with stakeholders This works in unison with ongoing and direct daily, weekly, and monthly communication—not just while each product is in season but out of season as well.

Our partners are viewed as our family and treated as such. SFG is a member of the Better Business Bureau and local Chamber of Commerce. Our dedication is to operations that strive towards the highest standards for everyone's well-being across the full spectrum of our value chain.

We hope you will join us in this pursuit.

When using Saffron, gently grind the saffron with mortar and pestle and/or slightly crush it with the back of a spoon. Add the saffron to a steeping liquid, base, or broth. Allow it to soak for a minimum of 10 minutes (overnight for optimal coloring results).

Saffron will give off a beautiful, golden hue and fragrant, earthy flavor notes that compliment a morning glass of almond milk, tea, or other comforting creations like braises, stews, and rice dishes.

Try our saffron for some of your favorite recipes and truly see why cooking with saffron is both fun, easy, and good for you.

For more ideas on how to use saffron, check out our blog.

While a significant amount of scientific research indicates that saffron may contain health benefits related to things such as depression, vision, ADHD, and more, saffron from Slofoodgroup, is purely marketed and sold as a spice for cooking, tea, and confectionaries.

Slofoodgroup does not offer any medical advice, claims, or otherwise. We cannot provide you with intake recommendations, should you choose to use this product for any health or medical related conditions. We do kindly encourage you to consult your health care provider, herbalist, or other healthcare professional before consuming any product.

Learn more about the suggested health benefits of saffron in this post.

Saffron is so expensive because it is the world’s most labor-intensive spice to grow, harvest, and process.

The saffron flower, Crocus sativa, or saffron crocus, flowers only once every fall. Each flower has three tiny little threads known as filaments, or stigmas, in the center that make up different grades of saffron. This filaments must be hand-harvested, which incredibly time-consuming.

When you buy saffron from Slofoodgroup, you are getting ISO Grade I rated saffron with a 259.3 coloring strength. Be wary of saffron that seems too cheap. It is was likely sourced unethically, is an imposter product, or is of extremely low quality.

For a more detailed explanation of what goes into the price of saffron, read this article.

Bay leaves have a variety of uses in culinary applications. They are commonly employed as a flavorful herb to enhance soups, stews, braises, and sauces. Their subtle, somewhat piney and floral scent is typically infused into dishes to balance other flavors. They can also be used for seasoning meats and vegetables, adding a unique herbal notes. When preparing rice or grain dishes, bay leaves can be added to infuse the cooking liquid. Similarly, they are sometimes brewed to make herbal teas.

All product is labeled with a recommend best-by date as a suggestion to use before for optimal freshness and flavor. This is only a recommended guidance.

Spices can last up to several years, depending on many factors such as method of storage, temperate, humidity, and other common factors.

For best results, always store spice in fully-sealed airtight container and avoid direct sunlight. Your pantry cupboard is ideally the perfect place.

No, none of our product undergo irradiation treatment.

Yes! We are an allergen-free facility and none of our products are packaged in, on, or with products that contain gluten.

Essentially, the difference between a spice and an herb comes down to what part of the plant the ingredient was sourced from.

Herbs are typically green, coming from the leaves, flowers, or stems of a plant. Technically speaking, herbs are non-woody plants that typically die off each winter (though some can be overwintered in optimal climates).

Spices, on the other hand, can come from many parts of a plant—roots, seeds, fruiting bodies, bark, sap, rhizomes, and other plant parts.

Spices will lose their flavor faster if they are ground. Once ground, the volatile oils begin to release much faster than if they were left whole to be ground immediately before use.

Learn the many ways you can grind your own spices here.

Whole spices will last longer than ground spices, but they will not last forever. The flavor and aroma will begin to dissipate as the volatile oils

Regardless of whether or not your spices are whole or ground, they will last a lot longer if they are stored properly. Follow this guide for proper spice storage.

There are many ways to grind spices. None are better than another; it simply comes down to preference.

Two of the most common ways to grind spices are using a mortar and pestle or using a spice grinder (either electric or hand-cranked). Don't have either? No problem, for many spices, you can place them in a zipper-sealed bag and take your aggression out on them using a mallet.

Want more details about how to grind your own spices, check out this post.

Black pepper and white pepper both come from the same plant, Piper Nigrum. In fact, all true peppercorns, whether they are white, black, green, or white, are all the seed of the Piper Nigrum.

The difference between white, black, and other peppercorns is in when they are picked and how they are processed, which accounts for the differences in taste and color.

The most recognizable of those pepper flavors in most of the world is that of the black peppercorn. It has low levels of spiciness. White peppercorn has similar flavor properties but has a slightly higher heat level despite coming across as more delicate, with somewhat grass-like and floral notes.

Black peppercorns has higher levels of piperine, which is the alkaline that contributes that sharp bite recognizable in black peppercorns. 

While black pepper is more commonly. found on the table, it's white pepper that is typically chosen for flavoring white sauces, when the chef wants to avoid adding black specks to the dish.

There is a plethora of peppercorn varieties available commercially. They come in a rainbow of colors. Most of those varieties are not true peppercorns, however. The only true peppercorns are berries derived from a vining plant, Piper Nigrum. They include black, white, green, and red—each of which has its own specifications of when to harvest and how it should be processed.

Fresh açai is not typically found outside of its native growth region in the Amazon and because the fruit begins to deteriorate soon after harvesting, it is not a good candidate for exportation in its fresh form. As such, you would be hard-pressed to find fresh açai. Most exported açai is either freeze-dried or frozen.

Many spices have been proven to have a wide array of health benefits. While we love that better health can be achieved by enjoying them, we are soley interested in distributing them for their culinary applications.

Should you choose to use our spices medicinally, we do suggest consulting your healthcare provider.

There are nearly a dozen different types of saffron. The most popular are both grade I varieties—sargol, super negin, and negin.

Super Negin is the most prized of all varieties of saffron, with full cardinal-colored filaments.

Sargol Cut is a close second, renowned for its high levels of crocin. Like Super Negin, Sargol contains all-red filaments, though they aren't quite as deeply colored. Sargol contains on the red tips of the stigma.

Negin saffron is is slightly longer than the Sargol or Super Negin, but and contains nearly 100% red filaments, though it may contain slight bits of yellow or orange. It is an exceptional product.

Other saffron types will typically contain more yellow. Bunch saffron, or Dasteh is one of those varieties. It contains both the stigma and the style. While it is not as highly graded as Sargol or Negin varieties, there is something delightful about possessing an entire bunch of this rare saffron.

Poshal is another variety of saffron that is typically the most inexpensive. It is mostly yellow and orange, with lower levels of crocin.

There are 4 grades of saffron:

  • Grade 1 contains all-red filaments, sourced from the tip of the stigma.
  • Grade 2 is a thread that contains red, but also can contain small amounts of red and yellow parts of the stigma.
  • Grade 3 typically has mostly yellow and orange but also contains some red.
  • Grade 4, or bunch saffron contains the full stigma and style.

Most of the world's supply of saffron is sourced from Iran, though it is commonly believed to have originated in Greece.

Saffron threads are the the stigmas and styles of the Crocus Sativus flower.

No. Marigold is sometimes marketed as Georgian Saffron, or poor man's saffron and is capable of adding a yellow hue to dishes but it does not have the saffron flavor and aroma.

Saffron is not only the most expensive spice because of the high-level of work and length of time that goes into a small amount of the spice, it is also prized because of its unique flavor—a flavor that is unlike anything else.

Describing the flavor of saffron is challenging because it doesn't really taste like any other thing on the planet. It does contain sweet, floral undertones reminiscent of honeysuckle but is much more complex than that. Many people describe it as being earthy, grass-like, and peppery.

There are several dishes from around the world that would not exist without saffron, among them are paella, risotto alla milanese, korma, Bouillabaisse.

Saffron is a wonderful addition to soups, stews, sauces, fishes, rice dishes, and more.

When it comes to weight to cost ratio, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world.

Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world.

No, saffron and turmeric have very different flavor properties.

Saffron possesses a natural, delicate sweetness and earth tones that might conjure images of fresh cut grass. Beyond that, the flavor intricacies of saffron are hard to describe and there is really no substitute that comes even close to having the same effect on a dish.

Turmeric, on the other hand, is far from delicate. It has an intensity that can easily take over a dish. It also contains earthy tones but more along the lines of dirt and wood than of fresh cut grass. and almost comes across as tasting of dirt or wood and bitter undertones.

The only time we would ever recommend turmeric as a stand-in for saffron is if you are merely interested in obtaining a golden hue.

Learn more about the differences between saffron and turmeric here.

Saffron is a delicate spice that incorporates a unique flavor and beautiful hue to any dish. It is fragrant and comforting and imparts a natural sweetness that is reminiscent of honey, though not nearly as concentrated in sweetness. It is fresh and earthy and is capable of brightening even the heartiest of dishes.

There really is no replacement for saffron if it is an important flavor component in a recipe.

However, there are a few ingredients that are falsely marketed as saffron. Among them are safflower and marigold (also called poor-man's saffron and Georgian saffron). In most cases, these will not be sold as saffron but it does happen and there is sometimes confusion by saffron novices due to similarities in names (safflower, Georgian saffron) and color.

Learn more about saffron imposters here.

Yes! Saffron makes a beautiful dye that can transform food and materials (fabric, yarn, etc...), adding anywhere from a pale yellow to a deep golden hue.

Saffron is what is known as a fugitive dye, however. This means it is not permanent and will leech out or fade little-by-little when it is washed or exposed to too much light.

Here are instructions for dying fabric with saffron.

A little bit of saffron goes a really long way and going overboard can overpower other flavors in a dish.

Most recipes will call for a teaspoon or less. A good rule of thumb is a few threads per serving, but if you want a deeper saffron flavor, feel free to use more.

For best results, crush your saffron with the back of a spoon or using a mortar and pestle. Soak your crushed saffron in liquid for at least 10 minutes (we actually recommend much longer, up to overnight) before use to extract the color and flavor.

Bay leaves have a unique and mild flavor. They are wonderful for freshening dishes with a floral notes and herbal, even almost minty undertones. The flavor of bay leaves is not overpowering but it adds complexity with distinct aromatic notes to dishes. When used in cooking, bay leaves contribute to the overall flavor profile and help enhance the taste of soups, stews, sauces, and many other savory dishes.

Yes, fresh bay leaves can be used in cooking. Although, when most recipes call for bay leaves, they are referring to the laurel leaf in its dried form. Fresh bay leaves will provide a slightly different flavor profile, and can even come across as slightly bitter but also more vibrant in their herbal aromatics. If you choose to use fresh bay leaves, keep in mind that the potency of fresh bay leaves may be stronger than dried ones, so you might need to adjust the quantity accordingly.

Bay leaves have been recognized for their potential benefits in various areas. They have been associated with aiding digestion, providing relief for coughs, reducing cholesterol levels, soothing stomach discomfort, alleviating sinus pressure, and even treating migraines. Moreover, bay leaves are rich in essential vitamins and nutrients that have the potential to enhance immune system functioning. Many folks choose to drink bay leaf water or bay leaf "tea" to incorporate this spice into their daily routine.

Here's a great recipe for bay leaf tea.

Bay leaf is a wonderful addition to rich and hearty dishes, because it balances flavors. It is piney, somewhat minty, floral, and even a bit citrusy—all flavor elements known for adding freshness to culinary creations.

Yes. Bay leaves are sourced from a Bay Laurel plant (also called Sweet Bay), or Laurus nobilis, an evergreen shrub that is native to the Mediterranean.

Bay leaves are thought to be beneficial to health in a variety of ways, including wound healing, treating digestive issues, promoting mental wellness, and providing a wide range of vitamins and other nutrients.

Learn more about the benefits of bay leaves here.

Black limes are simply green limes that have been scaled in salty water and dried. As such, their flavor is very similar to fresh limes but they are much more pronounced and complex than than their fresh counterpart. They are citrusy and refreshing but also have subtle elements of salt and smoke. They are also much more tart than fresh limes.

Black limes are created by drying fresh limes after scalding them in a salty brine. They are common in Persian, Middle Eastern, and South Asian cuisine and are often sourced from those areas. Though, they can also come from anywhere fresh limes are found.

Black limes are made by scalding fresh limes in salt water and then drying them. The drying process is most often done by sun drying the limes, but ovens and dehydrators can also be used.

Typically when someone mentions dried limes, they are referring to black limes. Black limes are briefly submerged in a salty brine prior to drying. Limes can be dried without blanching in salt water, but the result won't be the same.

Black lime powder is simply ground black limes. Black limes are fresh limes that have been submerged in a salty brine and then dried (typically in the sun). They can be ground in a spice grinder just like other spices.

Black limes have an extremely unique flavor and a tartness that is unmatched. In a pinch, though, you can uses fresh limes or other citrus. Sumac is a descent substitute in some dishes, as it has similar flavor properties.

No. Chili powder is a blend of spices that typically contains ground chiles, cumin, paprika, oregano, and more. Ground chiles or chile powder only contains a pure powder made from ground chile peppers.

For some recipes, chili powder can be a reasonable substitute for chile peppers or ground chiles. However, it's important to remember that chile powder (not to be confused with chile powder) contains other ingredients that will alter the flavor of your dish. If you don't want a your dish to taste like cumin, it's probably best to choose chile peppers or ground chiles.

Mastic gum has long been used in natural medicine and is a common ingredient in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes. In recent history, it has also become a popular ingredient in ice cream and other specialty desserts.

Learn more about the many uses for Mastic Gum here.

Mexican oregano is known as Lippia graveolens by botanists. Contrary to its common name, Mexican Oregano is not a true oregano. Surprisingly, it belongs to the verbena family and shares a closer botanical connection with lemon verbena than genuine oregano, which is a member of the mint family and is predominantly sourced from the Mediterranean region.

Mexican oregano is a fantastic ingredient for adding to soups, stews, rubs, and more. It balances many spicy dishes by adding a slight sweetness and notes of citrus.

Many studies have been conducted to determine the efficacy of the use of mastic gum for promoting oral hygiene. In most instances, chewing mastic gum led to less plaque and bacterial growth and better overall dental health.

All salt was, at one point in time, "sea salt" but while what most people refer to as sea salt is sourced by evaporating fresh sea water, table salt is typically mined from underground salt deposits which are essentially dried up sea water.

The most important difference between sea salt and table salt is the processing that occurs. Sea salt is minimally processed, maintaining occurrences of minerals and varying natural shapes, textures, and sizes of crystals, whereas table salt is processed and refined to remove natural minerals and impurities and to create uniform crystals.

Açai is the fruit of a type of palm (Euterpe Oleracea) that is native to Brazil and other Amazonian regions. It is known the world-over as a superfood and is famed for being the main ingredient in açai bowls and smoothies. Though açai is often referred to as a berry, it is actually a drupe—a pitted fruit like a peach or a plum.

Learn more about nutrient-dense açai here.

No. Açai is not a berry. It is a drupe, or stone fruit. Like peaches or plums, açai is a fruit with juicy flesh that surrounds a single pit.

Açai is a stone fruit. It is not a berry, but a drupe, like an olive or peach.

Açai bowls are a energizing, cold dish that typically blends together banana and açai and is topped with a wide assortment of other ingredients, including other fruits, granola, nuts, and seeds. Açai bowls were popularized in Brazil, where they began as a Jiu Jitsu endurance staple.

Check out this video demonstration on how to make açai bowls—and make sure you follow us on Facebook while you are there. https://fb.watch/kiPWjfKK8n/

Açai is pronounced ah-sah-yee.