Saffron is a spice that has been prized for thousands of years. It’s not always easy to find, and most recipes that use it call for just the tiniest little string of the stuff. Not only is saffron the last thing you’d want to waste given its price point, but too much of it also makes food taste soapy and weird.
As it’s such a high-end ingredient, many of us don’t run into saffron very often so when we do have to use it for a perfect paella or to experiment with making middle eastern food we worry about getting things right. And that extends to storage too. Saffron tends to come in a really tiny little plastic box that seems to want to get lost in the spice rack, or maybe get knocked over and bust open ruining those lovely (and pricey) saffron strands.
With all that in mind, you’re probably asking yourself how long saffron lasts and whether it goes bad. In fact, you’re probably wondering why I don’t just get to the darn point already.
Don’t worry, I will, but first we’re going to look at why exactly Saffron is such a prized spice and how to make sure you’re getting the best saffron possible. Trust me, it’ll make you appreciate the stuff more!
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Is Your Saffron Legit?
You probably have some idea that saffron’s price reflects how hard it is to harvest.
But did you know that each strand of saffron has to be picked by hand from inside a crocus? And that 1lb of dried saffron is the result of 50,000 flowers being harvested? Yeah, it’s almost looking cheap relative to the labor that goes into it now, isn’t it?
Saffron has been used all over the world for centuries, including in beauty products, traditional medicines and now modern medicines. Saffron has always been, and still is, in great demand.
Traditionally, Saffron comes from Iran, Afghanistan, Morocco, India, Italy and Spain. All these countries still grow the spice. You may, however, run into ‘American Saffron’. While Dutch-Americans have a history of growing legit saffron, safflower are also grown in the states to harvest something that looks like saffron but most definitely doesn’t taste or smell like it.
If in doubt, check the packaging carefully.
Remember, some people can’t smell or taste the flavors of saffron so if you feel like you’ve never found legit saffron then that might be you!
Does Saffron go Bad
Like all spices, saffron goes bad. It usually loses potency slowly over time, like most spices. It will be at best-quality for a year or two, depending on storage (less if you store it very badly) and then deplete slowly in quality until it’s useless for cooking.
Saffron is dried, so it’s unlikely to rot or become in any way icky and off-putting though there’s a chance of that if it has been exposed to a lot of moisture.
Most likely, your saffron will dry out slowly and change texture. The thing is, when you’ve had a spice for a few months or even years you can easily forget how good it was in the beginning. Plus, with saffron, the beautiful red-gold coloring it gives food can sometimes fool you into believing your spice is still good when it isn’t.
Stick to the storage tips below, and your saffron will stay good as long as possible. And if in doubt, check for the signs of spoiling I’ll go into later.
How to Store Saffron
I know, you have plenty of spices at home, so you know how to store them right? Maybe. But with saffron being so special, maybe you want to take special care of it. Also, you replace other spices way more often than you’ll be replacing saffron unless you often cook a cuisine that uses it (but then why would you be asking for storage advice).
Anyway, whatever you do, don’t put your saffron in the fridge! Obviously the fridge is not the natural home of spices, but saffron is special, and I can imagine a panic-refrigeration situation.
The fridge is cool, sure, but it’s a moist environment and as saffron is dried it sucks up moisture from the air really easily.
As with most spices and many longer-life foods, saffron likes (say it with me…) a cool dark place!
Wrap your saffron container in silver foil to block light if you don’t have a deep cupboard or pantry, and then put it in an airtight container. Personally, I would forget my head if it wasn’t screwed on so I always put saffron in a larger container than it needs and label it clearly.
When you use saffron, try not to hold the container over the pot you’re adding spice to because the heat and steam will damage the fronds you aren’t using yet. Instead, carefully pick out what you need and get the rest wrapped up and back in that cool dark place asap.
Can you Freeze Saffron?
It might come as a surprise that you can in fact freeze saffron. Such a luxury ingredient seems like it might be too delicate for the icebox, but in fact saffron is used and stored in great quantities in kitchens around the world.
As saffron lasts a decent amount of time in the pantry, freezing it only really makes sense if you’ve bought in bulk or really don’t think you’ll use your saffron for a long time.
To freeze saffron, first pour out the quantity you’re going to freeze onto a paper towel and remove any impurities or bad strands. This is more relevant to bulk saffron purchases, as the small pots are usually extremely well sorted.
Next, carefully wrap the saffron in silver foil. Wrap it tightly with no gaps, but be careful not t crush the package. Crushing is an easy way to get it tight, but it’ll damage your saffron and make unwrapping it a total nightmare too.
Finally, put the silver foil package in an airtight container. This could be a tupperware with a well-fitting lid, or a heavy-duty freezer bag. If you use a freezer bag, remember to arrange your freezer so the saffron doesn’t get crushed.
Stick your saffron in the freezer and when you need some, remove what’s necessary and wrap everything up again carefully.
How Long Does Saffron Last
In a cool, dark place ground saffron will last 6 months to one year at best quality. It will be usable for 1-2 years, depending on how well it is stored. Whole saffron strands will last longer, with a year plus at best quality and a slower decline in quality from there.
In the freezer, saffron can last up to 3 years at best quality but again, be sure it’s stored really carefully as it’s a delicate spice.
How to Tell if Saffron is Bad
There are a few ways to check if your saffron is past its best, but saffron is one of those foods where you really have to go with your gut to work out when it’s bad.
Saffron is very unlikely to harm you if it’s bad, it’s just that old or poorly stored saffron won’t have the same flavor as fresh and as it’s the star of many dishes flavorless saffron is a real disappointment.
Firstly, of course, you can check the best-by or expiration date on your saffron’s packaging. This isn’t exact, though, as usually best-by dates are pretty conservative. I would add 6 months to a year to that date myself. If you want to do that, though, assess the quality of your saffron yourself.
When you check if saffron is bad you’ll want to focus on color, texture and scent. If the saffron has dramatically faded in color from its beautiful orange-brown, it may be past its best.
If the saffron is excessively brittle and falls apart in a dusty way when rubbed, it’s probably too old to use.
Finally, if you can’t smell the earthy, floral saffron aroma up close and after crushing, it’s time to chuck the spice and spring for some new saffron!
What to do With Saffron
Saffron is probably most well-known in the USA for being a key component in paella, but it’s been a staple part of cooking throughout Europe, the Middle-East and Africa for generations. Plus, it’s a favorite of modern chefs playing around with food possibilities.
If you have saffron you’re keen to use before it goes bad, why not try making a saffron loaf cake to impress guests? Or, if you don’t have much of a sweet tooth, try a traditional Georgian stew or some really authentic Italian cooking.
Whatever you do with saffron, remember all the labor and love that went into getting you those little strands of crocus! Store your saffron carefully, and use it well.