Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Europe >
Jan 4, 2008 11:32 AM

Buying Saffron in Istanbul

Does anyone have any advice for buying saffron in Istanbul? I was asked to bring some back, but I don't eat a lot of it, so I don't even know if there is anything I should be looking out for. Also, what is a reasonable amount to pay?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. If you visit the Spice Bazaar, you will see great heaped bins of "saffron" outside every stall. This stuff is cheap, but tasteless and an utter waste of money. Instead, you can find Iranian saffron, packaged in plastic containers (the ones I bought were flat clear plastic disks with lots of Arabic writing) which is the real thing. I can't remember how much I paid, but it was reasonable for saffron and the stuff was pretty good quality. Many of the vendors have even higher quality saffron inside their shops which they will sell by weight. It's quite a bit more expensive, so unless you're a connaisseur I wouldn't bother. I bought a little of some better kind but frankly the way I use it (mostly in paella, risotto or Moroccan recipes) I can just as easily get away with the cheaper stuff.

    Shop around. The vendors will all have different prices for the same thing. And if you go to the outside stalls (these are the ones along the outside wall of one side of the main building - lots of cheese along that area too) you may find the best prices of all.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Nyleve

      I bought the same Iranian saffron in the plastic disks that you did. And it wasn't bad at all. The problem with it, though, is that the container is sealed so you can't really see what's on the underside of the saffron. It's very carefully packaged so that all the red is on top and the yellowish part, which adds to the weight but not to the flavor, is underneath where you can't see it. I wouldn't call myself a connoisseur, but I can tell the difference between red and yellow. Were I to buy saffron at the Spice Bazaar again, I would definitely buy it by weight so I could see, as they were measuring it out, exactly what I was buying. That was how I bought saffron in Morocco and I should have learned my lesson.

      1. re: JoanN

        I just used some of the saffron last night (in a tagine) and although some of it is yellow, in general the colour and flavour is very good and compares well to the Spanish stuff I buy here. There's a piece of board on the bottom of the package so you can't see right through the plastic but the disk itself is so thin that there's not a lot of room for hiding inferior bits.

        Having said that, I also bought some saffron by weight - much darker red and much more expensive. It was vacuum packed for me and is probably a quality I would have no access to in Canada. I've still not used it because I keep thinking I should save it for a dish that would really showcase the flavour.

        1. re: Nyleve

          I’d forgotten about the cardboard. I just recall being a bit taken aback when I turned over the little bunch of saffron and saw a different color underneath. With saffron, even more than with other foodstuffs, it’s caveat emptor. Producers are notorious for bulking up red stigmas with tasteless yellow stamens, so it’s all too easy to end up buying a lesser quality saffron than you intended—and paid for.

          Speaking of cost, my brother, who lives in Spain, used to bring saffron back for me whenever he came to visit. A couple of years ago, what he paid in Spain wasn’t all that much less than what I could get it for here in the States. But in the past year, prices for saffron have skyrocketed—and not only in North America. Throughout Europe Indian and Iranian saffron is up about 200% and Spanish saffron is up more than 300%. With the precipitous decline of the dollar against the Euro, this might not be the best time to be trying to find a deal either in Istanbul or anywhere else.

          1. re: Nyleve

            I just bought a tiny amount my weight. Very red and unbroken. It was quite expensive and I guess a real impulse purchase but I'm looking forward to using it. The vendor was very clear about how little I would need to use.

      2. Be careful most of the safron in Turkey is of poor quality. It is not really part of the cuisine and only the tourists seem to buy it. Most is spanish or poor quality from Iran.
        Safron is never cheap, apart from Iran you can find it in Dubai and good stores in Europe.

        1 Reply
        1. re: lunchanddinner

          The Iranian saffron I got in Turkey was good. There is a lot of crap available too though, so you do have to know what you're looking for. And although the good stuff isn't exactly dirt cheap, it is quite a bit less expensive than in North America.

        2. Sorry I didn't respond to this earlier (I only lurk on this board intermittently). In a previous thread at I posted at length on my experiences buying saffron in Turkey. There are more specifics in that link above, my general advice is, unless you know what you're buying, don't buy it in Turkey. On one trip, I got some heavenly Iranian stuff but at a premium price and the second time around, I didn't see anything that I trusted enough.

          1. Just returned from Dubai. At the spice souk I bought both iranian and spanish saffron at several different shops. both are very red in color and in clear containers so I could see all the threads, but am very dissappointed in the quality. the smell is WAY OFF...when I asked to smell it in the store and they refused to open it, that should have been my first hint to not buy it. Luckily it was so cheap i can throw it away but I had hoped to give it as souvenir gifts. total rip off.

            1. The original comment has been removed