Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. Native to the Mediterranean, saffron is the dried yellow stigmas from small purple crocuses, commonly known as the Rose of Saffron. Each flower produces only three stigmas, and they must be carefully hand-picked and dried, making it a highly labor intensive process. A pound of saffron is made from 225,000 stigmas from 75,000 flowers!
Saffron is used sparingly in a variety of cuisines from Indian to Spanish. It is used as a colorant and flavoring in a variety of dishes like curry, paella and bouillabaisse, and in desserts and breads. Powdered saffron is also available but is not as flavorful as the actual strands and can be mixed with other ingredients.
One of the earliest mention of saffron comes from ancient Egypt where it was used by pharaohs as perfume and as an aphrodisiac. The ancient Greeks also used saffron as aphrodisiac and as medicine for insomnia. According to WebMD, some people still use saffron as medicine for asthma, cough, insomnia, depression, cancer, heartburn, and even as a cure for baldness. However, they advise against consuming large doses of saffron as it can cause poisoning, vomiting, dizziness and other serious side effects.