Saffron is not your standard spice. Prized since antiquity, it is neither seed nor herb but rather the dried stigmas of the autumn crocus (Crocus sativus), which thrives in hot, dry places like Iran, Kashmir, and southern Spain. Each saffron crocus yields just three stigmas, which farmers pluck by hand and toast carefully to draw out their heady, floral fragrance that’s so mysterious it eludes all adjectives. Fifteen thousand stigmas equal roughly one ounce of saffron, making it the world’s most expensive spice by weight—a fun fact that might lead you to believe you can’t afford it. Nonsense: A few weightless threads are enough to turn a whole pot of soup or substantial dessert into a fragrant, orange-hued culinary masterpiece. 

Two tips to keep in mind, saffron-wise: First, because counterfeit saffron is everywhere, it’s best to source it from a trusted retailer; give powdered saffron a pass and seek out deep red threads with as little yellowing as possible. Second, for maximal flavor and color, toast the saffron in a dry skillet, then grind it in a mortar and steep it in a tablespoon or two of hot water before adding to the dish.

Steamed Saffron Rice with Tahdig (Chelo ba Tahdig)

Crispy Saffron Tahdig
Photography by Paola + Murray; Food Styling by Rebecca Jurkevich; Prop Styling by Sophie Strangio

This Persian specialty is arrestingly gorgeous with its saffron-stained grains and crisp, golden crust. Get the recipe >

Risotto alla Milanese

Risotto alla Milanese
Photography by Todd Coleman

Saffron and bone marrow combine in this luxuriously rich northern Italian risotto. Get the recipe >

Spaghettoni with Jasmine, Saffron, and Chamomile

Saffron Recipes
Photography by Beth Galton

There’s something magical about cooking with flowers, and this recipe from a restaurant on the Italian-Slovenian border incorporates three sweet-smelling types. Get the recipe >

Roasted Chicken, Corn, and Saffron Soup

Roasted Chicken, Corn, and Saffron Soup
Photography by Matt Taylor-Gross

Because of this comforting recipe, we can no longer fathom making chicken noodle soup without adding a pinch of saffron. Get the recipe >

Arroz con Perdiz (Saffron Rice with Partridges and Amontillado Sherry)

Saffron Rice with Partridges and Amontillado Sherry (Arroz con Perdiz)
Photography by Adrian Morris

This regional dish uses the same rice and many of the same techniques as paella—and hinges on whatever wild game birds are in season. Get the recipe >

Bourride (Fish Stew with Aïoli)

Bowl of fish stew with aioli

Homemade aïoli thickens the broth in this satisfying Marsellais stew made with halibut, shrimp, saffron, and white wine. Get the recipe >

No-Cook Saffron-Orange Ice Cream

Saffron Orange Ice Cream
Photography by Matt Taylor-Gross

There’s no faster route to homemade ice cream than a no-cook base like this one, to which we add saffron and orange bitters for a Mediterranean-inspired treat. Get the recipe >

Adas Polo (Persian Lentil Rice with Lavash Tahdig)

Persian Lentil Rice with Lavash Tahdig (Adas Polo)
Photography by Zachary Zavislak

A layer of lavash between the pot and the rice acts as a barrier to prevent the dried fruits from burning—and adds crunch to this sweet-and-salty dish. Get the recipe >

Seafood Pasta

Frutti di Mare
Photography by Michael Kraus

Saffron and seafood are culinary besties as this saffron-scented bucatini—laden with shrimp, squid, and littleneck clams—goes to show. Get the recipe >

Khan Plov (Chicken Pilaf in a Lavash Crust)

khan plov (chicken pilaf in a lavash crust)
Photography by Jason Lang

This Azerbaijani plov gets spattered with saffron-infused water to create patches of fragrant yellow rice. Get the recipe >

Mrouzia (Honey-Braised Lamb Shanks)

Honey Braised Lamb Shanks Recipe
Photography: David Malosh; Food Stylist: Simon Andrews; Prop Styling: Summer Moore

Lamb shanks turn meltingly soft in this centuries-old Moroccan braise that calls for honey, almonds, and raisins. Get the recipe >

Paella Mixta with Chorizo, Chicken, and Shrimp

Paella with Chorizo, Chicken, and Shrimp (Paella Mixta)
Photography by Andre Baranowski

Pay the paella prescriptivists no mind: Chorizo tastes terrific in paella, and it’s as traditional an ingredient as any other. Get the recipe >

Almond-Cardamom Pakhlava

almond-cardamom pakhlava
Photography by Jason Lang

Think of Azerbaijani pakhlava as a layered shortbread cookie as opposed to the crackly, ultra-sweet baklava you’re likely better acquainted with. Get the recipe >

(B’Stilla) Moroccan Pigeon Pie

Moroccan Pigeon Pie (B'stilla)

Traditionally pigeon is the protein of choice in this spicy, faintly sweet Moroccan pie, but chicken thighs, quail, or Cornish game hens make excellent substitutes. Get the recipe >

Fried Calamari with Saffron Aioli and Agrodolce

saffron recipes
Photography by Jenny Huang

In the off chance you have leftover saffron aioli, swoosh it onto sandwiches or serve it alongside  seafood paella. Get the recipe >

Kofta Chalau (Afghan-Style Meatballs with Saffron, Split Peas, and Sour Plums)

Afghan Meatballs with Saffron, Split Peas, and Sour Plums
Photography by Fatima Khawaja

Afghan saffron vendor Tahmina Ghaffer loves the way saffron plays with dried sour plums, which can be found at well-stocked Middle Eastern and Asian markets and spice shops. Get the recipe >

Saffron Fried Fish with Herbed Tahdig Rice

Persian-style saffron fish with herbed tahdig
Photography by Paola + Murray; Food Styling by Rebecca Jurkevich; Prop Styling by Sophie Strangio

We can think of no good reason this decadent Nowruz recipe shouldn’t be made year round. Get the recipe >

Gulab Jamun

Gulab Jamun Recipe by Maneet Chauhan
Photography by Mandy Reid

Meaning “flowery fruit,” the Indian dessert gulab jamun consists of dairy-enriched spheres bobbing in a rosewater-saffron syrup. Get the recipe >

​​Foda à Moda de Monção

Foda à Moda de Monção
Photography by Linda Pugliese; Food Styling by Christine Albano; Prop Styling by Carla Gonzalez-Hart

Saffron rice is the requisite sidekick to this lavish Portuguese lamb roast hailing from vinho verde country. Get the recipe >

Sheer Khurma

Sheer Khurma
Photography by Linda Pugliese; Food Styling by Christine Albano; Prop Styling by Carla Gonzalez-Hart

When temperatures soar, we crave this cool, creamy vermicelli pudding flavored with saffron and ghee. Get the recipe >

Halwa (Semolina Pudding with Nuts)

Kashmir Halwa Recipe
Photography by Matt Russell

This crumbly, pudding-like confection is studded with nuts and dried fruits and gets its floral kick from saffron steeped in syrup. Get the recipe >