When making your way around the kitchen at meal preparation time, it is important to know the difference between ingredients that are similarly named. Safflower and saffron may bear similar monikers, but they have very different uses in the kitchen. Safflower is prized for its oil, which can be used for cooking foods at high heat. Saffron, on the other hand, is the valuable and prized stigma of the flowering crocus plant.
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The safflower plant is an annual crop grown primarily for the oil in its seeds. Other uses for safflower include as a commercial bird seed and as a seed meal for industrial food applications. The plant's flowers were traditionally used to produce red and yellow dyes for clothing and food preparation. Recent research suggests that a daily dose of safflower oil may help to lower your risk of heart disease.
Safflower oil is available in two different formulas: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. The monounsaturated variety is odorless and colorless with a very high flash point, making it ideal for deep-frying foods at high temperatures. The polyunsaturated variety is also colorless and odorless, but it is much more delicate than its monounsaturated sibling. To preserve the freshness and integrity of monounsaturated oil, store it in a cool, dark place. Polyunsaturated oil should be kept in the refrigerator.
Saffron is a perennial herb of the plant Crocus sativus. It is grown commercially in Spain, Greece, Turkey, India, France, Italy and China. Saffron is actually the stigma of the plant's flower, with each flower bearing only three of the delicate red strands. Saffron is the most expensive herb by weight, owing to the fact that it is harvested by hand.
Saffron as a Spice
Saffron can be purchased whole or ground and is best obtained in small quantities. It can be added to food in several different ways. Threads of saffron may be soaked in water, wine or broth and then infused into the dish through the liquid. Threads may also be lightly toasted, ground into a powder and then added to food. Some recipes call for the threads to be crumbled and added directly to the dish.