No spice is more special than saffron. Its scent is haunting, its unmistakable flavour earthy yet aristocratic and subtle. It straddles sweet and savoury effortlessly, and it bestows a striking golden hue on every dish it graces. A few strands of saffron will transform a long list of dishes, adding an x-factor to everything from risottos and milk puddings to rich curries and fish stews.
Avoid the powdered sort: it's liable to fraud and adulteration and generally disappoints. Get the maximum from your saffron stigmas (strands) by warming them very gently for a few seconds, pounding them lightly and then infusing them in liquid for a minute or two to help release their glorious colour and aroma.
Why is saffron good for me? It has long been used in traditional medicine around the world, and modern scientific study suggests that saffron could also have a role to play in fighting disease. Research suggests that the carotenoid compounds responsible for saffron's striking colour (safranal, crocetin, crocin) could play a part in inhibiting the growth of tumours. The active constituents in saffron could help alleviate gastric problems, heart disease, insulin resistance, depression, premenstrual syndrome, insomnia and anxiety. Eating saffron also appears to help vision by retarding the degeneration of the retina that occurs with age.