Your thoughts on Saffron and other highly expensive ingredients

The friendliest place on the web for anyone that enjoys cooking.
If you have answers, please help by responding to the unanswered posts.

larry_stewart

Master Chef
Joined
Dec 25, 2006
Messages
5,183
Location
Long Island, New York
So, its crappy weather up here in the North East/. Definitely a good day for cooking ( esp. soup). I rifled through the cupboard to see what I had on hand. I had some Saffron, I knew I had a leek that hadn't been used in the fridge, and coincidentally, earlier in the day I came across a soup recipe that required both of those ingredients.

Let me start by saying that I've used saffron a few times before , for other soup or rice dishes and haven't been thrilled. I figured that Id give it another shot, since I had it laying around. It was not very old and packaged really well. It was the kinda thing where I saw it on the counter when shopping for something else, and my cooking curiosity got the best of me. It was probably a light shopping week, so I figure , what the heck, lets buy it.

So I followed the recipe ( basically a potato leek soup with saffron, wild rice and fried almonds and garlic to garnish. The soup wasn't bad ( Not great, but not bad). I enjoyed the texture of the fried sliced almonds in the soup , which is not something ive done before and was surprised cause I thought the texture contrast wouldn't be pleasant, but it was. But then I got thinking, if there was one aspect of the soup that I wasn't crazy about was the saffron flavor its self. Im not going to say it was bad, but I didn't feel that its taste justified the price.

Sure, certain items are pricey cause of supply/ demand issues, short shelf life, exotic locations, High quality, snobbery, pumped up marketing as the Item that you ' must have'. and many other reasons, but not necessarily that they are all great. Now this includes, but is not limited to Saffron, truffles, caviar, certain cuts of beef, certain wines ......(Being vegetarian , clearly I didn't try a few of the above, but I know they can get obnoxiously pricey).

This all leads me to my question, are there any obnoxiously priced ingredients that you feel is worth the price, based on its flavor ?

Sure, I treat myself every now and then when the recipe calls for it, but there have been very few times where I didn't say " I wish I had my money back, and skipped that ingredient or recipe"

I love truffles, but prefer the truffle oil over the actual truffle cause the consistency isn't appealing to me ( kinda like pencil shavings) and I feel the flavor gets more dispersed with the oil. Saffron, as mentioned above, the first time I tried it it kinda reminded me of cat urine ( not that ive ever tried cat urine before, but if I had, thats what I would have imagined it kinda tasted like). Then had it a few more times, some not as potent as the first time, and this last time almost tasted like an electrical fire smells. Sure there are different brands, qualities , locations that could affect taste, but ive had it enough times, with repeated consistency , that I can get the general taste without thinking it was just a ' bad batch'

So, once again, is there a certain obnoxiously priced ingredient that you feel its taste justifies its price ? ( obviously there are no wrong answers, bjust curious about opinion here)
 

CraigC

Master Chef
Joined
Jan 27, 2011
Messages
6,483
I've never had saffron in a vegetarian dish. Always had it with dishes like paella and risotto Milanese (chicken stock). We've had black truffles, but not white truffles. I've been tempted a few times with whites, but couldn't justify the price. Almost bit on half a baseball size one for $200.00 many years ago.
 

medtran49

Executive Chef
Joined
Feb 20, 2011
Messages
4,873
Location
Florida
I love truffles, but you have to let them ripen and you have to shave them super, super thin, otherwise you do get that pencil shavings texture, especially if they aren't ripe. Found out about the final ripening by accident. We had bought some blacks, used part of them right away in a couple of dishes, then didn't get around to using the rest until several days later, probably closer to a week actually. The "body" had darkened a bit and there was more definition of color between the "veins" and the "body" of the truffle, and the smell was even better. From then on, I always check to see if they are ripe by cutting one open in the middle before using. I have also learned it is better to keep them lightly wrapped in paper towels in a glass or plastic airtight container. Only keep them in rice if you want to flavor the rice as it draws flavor out of the truffle. Did some research after I made the accidental discovery.

I use the knobby ends to make butter or oil, rather than eat them. You can wrap the butter well and freeze it.

I love the taste of saffron, but you have to be so careful with it, as there is such a fine line between the perfect amount and medicinal tasting. There is also a lot of fraud in the saffron industry with the use of stamens from other crocuses.
 
Last edited:

GotGarlic

Chef Extraordinaire
Joined
May 9, 2007
Messages
26,925
Location
Southeastern Virginia
The only expensive products I can think of that I use regularly are good-quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar from the specialty store. You can try many different oils from different countries and some are infused with flavors like Tuscan herbs or garlic. You can taste them before buying to decide which you like.

We only use the 18-year-old balsamic for raw uses - DH puts it on his salad, along with an olive oil from the same store, and we use it on caprese salad. I really like getting different infused dark and white balsamic vinegars.
 

skilletlicker

Head Chef
Joined
Aug 28, 2005
Messages
2,258
Location
Memphis, TN
There are lots of food items I don't buy because of price. Certainly safron and truffles. Also fleur de sel and many cuts of meat and types of fish. I don't begrudge the merchants their profits and it doesn't bother me that other people are willing to pay the price. I wouldn't use "obnoxious" to describe those situations.

Chia seeds and quinoa are two items that used to cost more than I was willing to pay but prices have come down due to normal market forces.

I'd reserve the word "obnoxious" for things like pharmaceuticals where the price is exorbitant because of abusive monopolistic strategies. I fear there is potential for the same thing in the food industry around the seed patent issue. I hear the same arguments used to defend seed patents that are used to rationalize pharmaceutical price gouging. Another future vulnerability around the same issues may eventually come up in the "cultured meat" industry. The point; regulation isn't a dirty word. It is an essential component of a healthy free market.
 

jennyema

Chef Extraordinaire
Joined
Mar 1, 2002
Messages
10,462
Location
Boston and Cape Cod
Saffron is worth it, to me. I just bought some in Dubai and its super. I think it matters a lot where you source it.

Good wine :yum:

Good olive oil and good vinegar are very worth it

Not a huge truffle fan so don't buy it, but sometimes will pay for the legit good stuff in a restaurant

Striped bass

Prime beef
 

taxlady

Chef Extraordinaire
Moderator Emeritus
Joined
Sep 13, 2010
Messages
28,748
Location
near Montreal, Quebec
Saffron is expensive because it is labour intensive to harvest. I have come across some stuff that was a whole lot cheaper than "Spanish saffron", that was called "American saffron". I don't remember why, but I didn't care for it. I almost never use saffron and I doubt I will buy it again.
 

Chief Longwind Of The North

Certified/Certifiable
Joined
Aug 26, 2004
Messages
12,454
Location
USA,Michigan
Safron is the hand-picked stamens from a specific orchid. It is very labor intensive, and isn't readily availble in most parts of the world
I'm not crazy about the flavor, as to me, it tastes like tobaco smells. That being said, i believe the flavor would play well with split pea, or French-Canadien pea soup.

Foods that I think are worth the price, wild chinook (king) salmon, wild rainbow trout, wild Lake Superior lake trout, wild steelhead, fresh, sushi-grade ahi tuna, swordfish, morell mushrooms, porchini mushrooms, aged, prime, corn_finished beef, bivalves, truly vine-ripened, organic tomatoes, and really good cheesecake.

Those are some of the food items that are worth their price. Oh, and West Pier burgers in Sault Ste. Marie, Mi
For a buger cooked on a flat-top, you won't find a better buger anywhere.

Seeeeeya; Chief Longwind of the North
 

Cooking Goddess

Chef Extraordinaire
Joined
Jul 21, 2009
Messages
15,918
Location
Body in MA ~ Heart in OH
Chief, saffron comes from autumn blooming crocus. I grew them once. I bet you're thinking of vanilla beans. Those come from orchids.


My Mom swore by saffron in chicken soup. Just a tiny pinch for color. I have some that I got for a decent price at Trader Joe's and use it mostly for chicken soup.
 

Chief Longwind Of The North

Certified/Certifiable
Joined
Aug 26, 2004
Messages
12,454
Location
USA,Michigan
Chief, saffron comes from autumn blooming crocus. I grew them once. I bet you're thinking of vanilla beans. Those come from orchids.


My Mom swore by saffron in chicken soup. Just a tiny pinch for color. I have some that I got for a decent price at Trader Joe's and use it mostly for chicken soup.

You are absolutely correct. I was thinking vanilla beans. My bad. You don' want to know where vanillin comes from.

Seeeeya; Chief Longwind of the North
 

taxlady

Chef Extraordinaire
Moderator Emeritus
Joined
Sep 13, 2010
Messages
28,748
Location
near Montreal, Quebec
You are absolutely correct. I was thinking vanilla beans. My bad. You don' want to know where vanillin comes from.

Seeeeya; Chief Longwind of the North

Vanillin used to come from lignin, which came from the forestry industry. They have other means of making it now.

I think you are thinking of another vanilla scented substance, castoreum.
 

msmofet

Chef Extraordinaire
Joined
Apr 5, 2009
Messages
13,045
Chief, saffron comes from autumn blooming crocus. I grew them once. I bet you're thinking of vanilla beans. Those come from orchids.


My Mom swore by saffron in chicken soup. Just a tiny pinch for color. I have some that I got for a decent price at Trader Joe's and use it mostly for chicken soup.
I also like TJ's saffron and agree about the good price.
 

taxlady

Chef Extraordinaire
Moderator Emeritus
Joined
Sep 13, 2010
Messages
28,748
Location
near Montreal, Quebec
One of my friends, who lives in Sweden, recently posted not to give pieces of saffron buns to birds, because it can be toxic to them. Apparently, saffron is used a lot during the winter holiday season.
 

GotGarlic

Chef Extraordinaire
Joined
May 9, 2007
Messages
26,925
Location
Southeastern Virginia
One of my friends, who lives in Sweden, recently posted not to give pieces of saffron buns to birds, because it can be toxic to them. Apparently, saffron is used a lot during the winter holiday season.
People shouldn't give any bread to birds. It has no nutritional value for them - it just fills them up so they can't eat nutritious food when they find it. They need more fat and protein to be healthy.
 

Latest posts

Top Bottom