Our recipe for Spanish paella with mahi mahi includes saffron in your spice mix. It is a very special spice that has a subtly earthy/grassy taste and smell, but a floral/honey sweetness, and it gives a golden hue to your dish. To get that unmistakable scent and flavor, you need the deep orange dried stigmas of a high maintenance crocus flower, Crocus sativus.
It has fickle yields, only grows in very specific climates and must be gathered by hand. Each flower, which blooms for one week of the year, produces about three stamens which must be delicately picked by hand and dried. The flower cannot grow in the wild or reproduce without human intervention. To produce a single pound of saffron, 75,000 flowers and substantial labor are needed. That explains the price of $2,000 to $10,000 per pound. Saffron is by far the most expensive food on earth and has been throughout history. It costs considerably more than caviar, real balsamic vinegar, and even truffles. Luckily, a tiny bit goes a long way!
Iran produces 85 percent of the world’s saffron, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, thanks to its relatively dry, sunny climate and the agricultural knowledge passed down through generations of farmers. Since ancient times and in many cultures, saffron has been used as a medicine, aphrodisiac, dye, and spice. We hope it evokes elegance in your paella recipe this week.