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Saffrons popularity down to colour and flavour

Saffron is often used in rice dishes

The brilliant yellow colour of saffron and its intense flavour are two reasons why it is one of the culinary spices that are in demand among chefs, one writer has noted.

Carole Kotkin, in an article for the McClatchy Tribune, explained the substance has been seen as "the spice of pharaohs, maharajas and kings" since early Egyptian times.

Saffron production is very labour-intensive, with harvesters needing to pick red stigma threads from 6,000 crocuses to produce one ounce of the spice.

This is reflected in its price - around $100 (£64) per ounce - and chefs who purchase saffron to use in Indian recipes were advised by Ms Kotkin to crush the dried threads a little before adding them to the dish so as to release their flavour.

However, she warned against using saffron that has been on the spice rack for some time, as it can lose its zest over the years.

The Independent recently reported the Food Standards Agency in the UK has asked its Spanish counterparts to examine saffron being exported from the country, amid allegations it is not as pure as producers claim.

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