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Sunday, August 15, 2021

All about Saffron and Saffron Scented Fennel & Chickpea Stew Recipe

Like so many people, when I’ve traveled to Spain, I’ve come back with packages of saffron. But recently I met Negar Ajayebi, whose company Baron Saffron is importing the most exquisite organic Persian saffron. The color is incredibly vibrant and the aroma intense and complex. Frankly, it was way better than anything I ever had before. I spoke with Ajayebi to learn more about this exquisite spice and how to use it. 

How did you get into the saffron business?
It was a hobby as we cook every day and we use saffron a lot. Persian people grow up with saffron. We came from a culture where daily cooking is the primary job of every family, and saffron is an important ingredient. The best saffron in the world grows in the Persian plateau, and we like to introduce it to people worldwide.

What is something that most Americans don't know about saffron?

Most Americans use the threads to add taste, but the point is that you should grind the threads and brew them! It has so many health benefits as well. The use of saffron as a medicinal plant dates back to ancient times, with its reported therapeutic applications ranging from complaints of the eye, skin, respiratory, digestive, and genitourinary tracts, to mood disorders and as a general tonic.

What makes Persian saffron so special compared to saffron from other countries?

Saffron, like other flowers, needs a unique climate to grow up well. The geographical parameters in the great Khorasan (the eastern part of Iran and western part of Afghanistan), aka soil, water, and temperature, make it the best place to grow up saffron. This flower needs too much attention, which means a lot of labor costs. So economical parameter is another issue.

Can you explain the lab testing of saffron and grading?

The standard test for saffron is ISO 3632-2, which clarifies the three characteristics' saffron sample:

 • Safranal: This index represents the smell of saffron. The high-quality saffron scores over 40

 • Crocin: This shows the color of saffron. Pure and fresh saffron gets over a score of 250

 • Picocrocin: This demonstrates the flavor of saffron. If the test has over 80, you can trust it

I think a lot of people like me buy it and use it infrequently. How important is it for saffron to be fresh?

The fresher, the better! Keeping saffron in a dry and nearly cold place is a must. It should be kept dry and in a closed lid container.

How do you use saffron, and how much is typically needed per recipe?

The best way to use saffron is to brew it. Brewing the saffron releases the most aroma and color, and taste. To have a better result, we usually grind the saffron's threads. It practically helps to release its flavor and aroma three times more! The amount of saffron used in the recipes depends on how much you want the taste to be strong and how much you believe in saffron!

You recommend grinding the saffron and brewing it with ice at room temperature. Why is that?

It's a traditional way we learned from our ancestors, and that's because we believe precisely like coffee, cold brewing draws the most aroma and color and tastes out of saffron. 

SPECIAL OFFER: If you’d like to purchase saffron, Baron Saffron is offering free shipping with the code cookingwithamy. I hope you’ll try this truly exquisite saffron and let me know how you use it in the comments. I can personally attest a very little bit goes a long way. Thanks Negar!

Saffron Scented Chickpea and Fennel Stew

Serves 4


2 heads of fennel, chopped, (save the core)

1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil

1 large onion, chopped (save the peel and scraps)

1 yellow pepper or 5 mini peppers, seeded and chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced 

1 can or 1 1/2 cups of cooked chickpeas

1/2 cup orange juice 

1 cup of fennel onion broth

1 can of cherry tomatoes (15 ounces)

Pinch of saffron 


In a small saucepan combine the reserved fennel core and onion scraps. Cover with water and simmer to make a broth. Meanwhile, heat a soup pot and add the oil. Gently fry the onion, fennel, and peppers until soft and beginning to turn golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. 

Add the chickpeas, orange juice, about a cup of the fennel onion broth, the cherry tomatoes and their liquid, and a pinch of saffron. Simmer for 10-15 minutes or until thick and fragrant. Season to taste with salt. Serve with bulgar or rice.