Here’s a selection of questions we’re often asked at Farmers’ Markets, and their answers.
Isn’t saffron as expensive as gold? It’s undeniable that saffron comes at a price, because of the huge amounts of hand-labour that are required to grow and harvest it. This is why we work hard to make Norfolk Saffron as strong as possible, so that only a very small amount of it is required to flavour and colour your food.
How does Norfolk Saffron compare with Spanish saffron? There are many different grades and qualities of Spanish saffron. Much is no longer even grown in Spain, but just re-packaged there! We gained a Great Taste Award for Norfolk Saffron in 2012, and independent laboratory testing shows that our saffron conforms to ISO 3632 category I, the top international grade for saffron quality, and far exceeds the minimum requirements for the category. Norfolk Saffron’s superior strength is also borne out by our own and our customers’ experiences and feedback.
What's ISO 3632? This is the International Standards Organisation standard for saffron quality, also followed by the British Standards Institute (BSI). There are many different clauses in ISO 3632, but three of the most important ones are laboratory measurement of the amounts of crocin (responsible for colour), picrocrocin (responsible for flavour) and safranal (responsible for aroma) in a sample of the saffron. The crocin measurement is known as the "colouring strength" of the saffron. The higher the levels of these three substances, the better quality the saffron. Quality is graded category I, II, or III (there was also a lower grade, IV, but this is no longer used). Category I is the top grade. The system is widely used in the major saffron-producing counties of the world, though you won't find the category nor colouring strength displayed on low quality, cheap saffron.
Isn’t saffron the stamen from saffron crocuses? No, it’s the red stigma (one of the female parts of the flower). Stamens (the yellow male part which produces the pollen) can be present in some types of saffron, but are never in Norfolk Saffron. The confusion probably arose because the stamens are yellow and saffron gives a yellow colour to food.
Does saffron come from the autumn crocus? No. This point is crucial because the autumn crocus (also known as meadow saffron or naked ladies, Colchicum autumnale) is highly poisonous and people have died after eating it. Only the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) produces saffron.
What does saffron taste like? Norfolk Saffron’s flavour is honeyed and floral, yet with a slight bitterness too. Top quality saffron is so much more than just a yellow food colouring.
What can I use saffron for? Norfolk Saffron is perfect for sweet and savoury dishes. Aside from simple saffron rice, there are several other classic saffron recipes e.g. Cornish Saffron Cake, Paella, Bouillabaisse and Risotto alla Milanese. There are many other delicious recipes in our Saffron Book.
How do I use saffron? Full instructions are here. Never just throw the threads into your recipe without following our simple instructions as it will waste your saffron and you won't get the best out if it.
I’ve found some recipes on the internet that call for several grams of saffron. Doesn’t this make it way too expensive to use? Some recipes specify ridiculously high quantities and we can only assume these recipes have been developed using very low grade saffron, or the quantities have been guessed at because the recipe writer's kitchen scales can't make accurate small measurements. The good news is that because Norfolk Saffron is very strong, you don’t need very much at all. Some online recipes we’ve tested only needed one tenth of the specified amount. Check our information on how much to use. In general, recipes that specify numbers of threads are the best ones to follow.
Can I use too much saffron? Follow our guidelines as a starting point. Too much saffron is a waste of spice, gives food an artificial-looking colour and an unpleasant overpowering flavour. [Like many other spices, massive overdoses of saffron can be bad for you. It's been highlighted to us by a member of the public that certain internet sources say eating 20g of saffron in one go is toxic. Put into perspective, that's 66 and two-thirds of our standard size jars in one go! Normal usage of saffron is absolutely fine.]
Is saffron good for you? Historically it was believed that saffron could be used to treat many ailments afflicting people and also livestock! Modern medical research reveals that when carefully prepared in small doses, saffron has beneficial effects on eye health, cardiac health and depression, as well as possessing anti-cancer properties. Please note I'm not a medical doctor (I'm a botanist), so cannot advise on doses. For this you would need to consult a qualified professional.
How long does saffron last? Saffron is typically given a Best Before date several years after harvest. We feel the industry norm is too long, so we use a Best Before date two years after the harvest date. We would encourage you to use your Norfolk Saffron within this time, so you can experience the flavour and aroma at its best.
How should saffron be stored? In a tightly-closed container, out of direct sunlight (ideally in a cupboard) and away from strong odours.
I’ve already got a box of old saffron in my cupboard, so why would I want to buy some more? As it ages, the flavour and aroma of saffron deteriorate and disappear. Experiencing saffron’s delicious flavour and aroma for the first time after buying Norfolk Saffron has been a revelation to some of our customers. You can use old saffron for dyeing fabrics.
Why is Norfolk Saffron more expensive than supermarket saffron? Much cheap saffron is imported from countries where labour charges are way lower than ours in the UK. Labour charges account for a huge chunk of saffron's price because it can only be harvested and processed by hand. A further point is the wide range of quality between different brands and the category of the saffron when comparing prices. If it's unlabelled it probably isn't category I! Category III saffron could be less than half the strength of category I. When you buy Norfolk Saffron you are buying a world-class category I saffron, produced with commitment to looking after the environment, and with many other features absent from the mass-market product.
I bought a large bag of saffron very cheaply whilst on holiday. Why doesn’t it colour my food? We often get asked this question! There seems to be a significant problem with an unrelated plant, safflower, being passed off as saffron to tourists in some countries. Dried safflower florets contain none of the same colour, flavour, or aroma substances as saffron. Saffron adulteration has been a problem for millennia – if it seems very cheap, it almost certainly isn’t real saffron.
Saffron I have bought abroad is yellow (or orange) but yours is red. Does yours colour food red? "Saffron" that is uniformly yellow or orange is almost certainly fake. Real saffron threads are a rich deep red at their tips (the part we pick for you) and they do colour food yellow.
How many acres of saffron do you grow? We’re currently growing about the same amount as an average grower in the Tudor period, and we're expanding our area each year.
Is Norfolk Saffron organic? We've never sought certification by one of the UK's organic inspection organisations (it's so expensive!), so we cannot legally describe Norfolk Saffron as organic. However, we follow the principles of organic growing: we don’t use fungicides, herbicides/weedkillers or pesticides on the saffron plants, and we look after the soil. Our land has not been used for mainstream agriculture since 1999. This is longer than the "organic conversion" period specified by the inspection bodies.
Do you give talks on saffron? Yes. Please contact us to discuss.
Can I grow saffron at home? Yes, if you are in the Southern half of the UK. Saffron originated in Crete, so winters in Northern England and in Scotland are probably too cold for it to succeed outside. You must make sure any plants you buy are Crocus sativus (the only source of saffron) and not another crocus, nor the highly poisonous autumn crocus Colchicum autumnale.
Do you sell saffron corms (aka bulbs)? No. At present we are using the natural annual increase of our saffron corms to expand our growing area.
Do you grow any other crops? Since 2013 we have been planting small areas of 'conservation crops' to benefit wildlife. Sally is also working on trials of other specialist crops.
Can I visit Norfolk Saffron HQ (and buy saffron from you)? We regret that we are not able to routinely host visitors at our smallholding, but we do have regular open days at our on-site Saffron Museum where you can find out about this fascinating crop and buy our products. We can arrange spercial open days for groups. At other times, you can collect pre-paid orders (excluding 'King Harry' liqueur) STRICTLY BY PRIOR ARRANGEMENT if you are local. Please e-mail in advance to arrange this.