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Really cheap prices for saffron, vanilla beans and porcini from Golden Gate -- is quality OK?

Miss Needle Aug 22, 2008 09:45 AM

I was wondering if anybody has ordered saffron from them before. The prices are really good -- $73/ounce. I've noticed that this saffron is from Iran, and I usually purchase saffron from Kashmir or Spain. Is there a discernible difference in quality? I know I've read that saffron from Kashmir and Spain are superior, but I'd like to hear some firsthand responses from people who have tried Iranian saffron before.

And I've also noticed that they sell Tahitian vanilla beans at a great price as well -- about 110-130 beans for less than $30! And the cepes are really cheap as well at 1/2 lb for $16.

While I'm always up for a bargain, I'd like to know what the quality is like. I'd appreciate any input. Thanks!

http://www.saffron.com/cons_guide.html

  1. iL Divo Mar 16, 2014 02:08 PM

    all I know is saffron from from Mexico is very susbstandard-no idea about product from Iran

    1 Reply
    1. re: iL Divo
      g
      GTM Mar 16, 2014 09:14 PM

      Afaik, Mexican saffron is merely safflower petals, and has nothing at all to do with saffron which comes from the stigma of the crocus plant. You are not using saffron at all.

      There are various grades of Spanish saffron, from Select to Coupe, varying in price from $55-70/oz., and even $90/oz. for the unfortunate and unwary customer. Afghan Saffron, which could well be Iranian product in disguise, is around $80/oz. Kashmiri Saffron is of various grades and is difficult to find the better grades in the US.

      I don't understand the dynamics of Spanish Saffron, but an EU nation with EU labor laws and other constraints would tend to have very high prices for its farm products, especially when its production is as small as the Spanish saffron crop is when compared to the Iranian. I cannot see the Spanish government subsidizing a minor crop like saffron to the extent it might an important commodity like grape or vegetable, but I could be wrong. Therefore, the Spanish prices make little sense to me, ignorant though I am; unless there is leakage of Iranian material through Spain tot he rest of the world and through Afghanistan as well. Iran sells saffron at $1870-2000/kilogram airfreighted to India [Ahmedabad], to Germany and to Canada. You do the math! There is no embargo on trade with India for all practical purposes, when dealing with items like saffron, asafetida, and dry fruit.

      Go here: http://www.saffronexporter.com/ : you will find information about the different terms used for Iranian saffron, i.e. the meaning for Sargol [stigma ends only], Pushal Negin, Pushal and Bunch Saffron.

    2. g
      GTM Mar 12, 2014 03:46 PM

      I purchased Iranian saffron from Vanilla Imports way back when it was $35/oz. Wish I had bought several ounces and frozen them. I still have some from 2001, frozen, and it is still excellent, attenuated, but does its job. I am from India and we use saffron in multiple ways, as a flavoring in hot milky drinks as hot chocolate is used here, in flavoring a number of sweet dishes, in savory dishes, in flavoring warm water for religious rituals, etc. So, saffron is even more significant to an orthodox Indian in a cultural sense than it is to a MODERN Iranian for whom it is relegated to only a food item, robbed of its previous sacred status that remains in the Indian and Tibetan traditions.

      So, saffron is an emotive issue! I have not used Spanish saffron and cannot speak to its quality, but note that Khanapakana.com is having a sale on Spanish saffron 1 oz at $70; Amazon sells the same brand through the same vendor at $90/oz, so go to the primary vendor and get the discounted price. Vanilla Imports is offering the Afghan variety at $80/oz plus shipping. I am not familiar with the Afghan quality either, but would be tempted to try it.

      An interesting experiment might be for 4 Chowhounds to split the costs of 2 ounces of the Spanish and Afghan saffron and share 1/4 oz of each variety just to compare quality. If the threads are places in GLASS baby food jars and capped tightly, and stored in the freezer, they should last for 7 years without much problem. I don't know if the saffron sold in the markets of the UAE are Iranian and what grading systems and pricing obtains there, or what saffron is sold in Pakistan.

      Perhaps some of our readers could enlighten us? I am sure some of the saffron sold in Pakistan should be of very high quality and brought in directly from Iran, and perhaps even grown in the country?

      3 Replies
      1. re: GTM
        p
        pine time Mar 16, 2014 05:06 AM

        I'm glad to read your "should last for 7 years," because that's been my experience, too. I've had folks challenge me that 7 years is way too long. I still have some stash of direct-from Kashmir (via relatives) saffron that's old, but in perfect condition. I love to dry-roast a bit before crumbling it in a little warm milk (I always drink a spoonful, too) then add to the dish.

        1. re: pine time
          g
          GTM Mar 16, 2014 05:56 AM

          Vanilla Imports taught me to get out of the Indian practice of dry-roasting the threads and I am GRATEFUL to them!!!!! I learned that there are 3 major chemical fractions, among the MANY hundreds if not thousands, that contribute to saffron color, flavor and aroma respectively. None is helped by the heat of dry roasting but steeping in hot water below scalding temperature, covered, for 2 hours releases the maximum of all three.

          Indians do 2 or 3 things not useful to saffron extraction for biryani, quite possibly because they work with saffron with a higher moisture content or with stigmas with a greater length of style attached. I used to use Kashmiri saffron exclusively, from the Government farm at Pampore in the early 70s; both the red and the "ivory" grades, so I have some experience of these types.

          1) I have no idea why some in India use a highly acidic [lime juice +water] or slightly alkaline [milk] to extract saffron, but the Kashmir saffron can have bitter overtone when used with a free hand! I think adding lime juice or milk/cream to the rice immediately after adding the saffron extract works just fine, as is also a valid traditional technique for dum biryani; it does not interfere with the saffron extraction, which is done in water.

          2) Dry toasting, especially as there is little temperature control and one can distinctly smell the volatiles evaporating. I now realie that if you can smell something, it means that at least some fraction of the precious chemicals have migrated from the already tiny pinch of stigmas in the hot pan to my nose! Why should I waste even that bit of precious substance, is my way of thinking? The toasty flavor actually does nothing for the saffron unlike in other spices, if the saffron is of excellent quality, and dry, not musty. In India, people did not have refrigerators, and the threads pull in moisture from the air, and become damp and musty and really do require that preliminary toasting in the plains. Is that necessary in the dessicating environment of a freezer or even a refrigerator? I should like to understand this point better!

          1. re: GTM
            p
            pine time Mar 16, 2014 02:06 PM

            Very interesting on the toasting (which I will continue to do for freshly ground spices, but will refrain for saffron). Thanks! I love all things saffron, so I certainly do not want to 'waste' even the aroma/oils!

      2. d
        dijon Feb 5, 2013 02:21 PM

        Interesting they currently list Afghan saffron. Mexican saffron is available at the local market and has the right color and appearance but is virtually tasteless. Give us a report, Ive always wanted to use more saffron.

        8 Replies
        1. re: dijon
          Midlife Feb 5, 2013 04:51 PM

          This is a very old topic. From what I know there is a US embargo on importing Saffron from Iran in effect at this time (2013).

          1. re: Midlife
            m
            MacGuffin Feb 6, 2013 05:14 PM

            According to another site that sells saffron, the area in which Afghan saffron is grown borders the area of Iran where saffron is grown so the quality is probably pretty similar given that the terroir is probably identical. I'd trust Golden Gate's quality any day of the week. I have some of their saffron (Iranian) but haven't used it yet. The color, however, is beautiful--VERY little yellow and the price was right.

          2. re: dijon
            p
            pine time Feb 6, 2013 02:42 PM

            Most Mexican saffron that I've seen is actually safflower petals. Some will even have color bleeding from the threads--artificially colored.

            I've had luck with Penzey's, but I also have family in India and get regular stashes of (real) Kashmiri saffron, which I treasure.

            1. re: dijon
              s
              sbus01 Apr 7, 2013 08:41 AM

              So-called "Mexican Saffron" isn't saffron at all. It's Safflower. No taste, no smell, not saffron.

              1. re: dijon
                h
                HillJ Apr 7, 2013 08:46 AM

                I've been purchasing vanilla bean, dried mushrooms and saffron from this wholesaler for 12 years. Top notch, industry supplier and a very cool business owner.

                I recall my first order, which was 100 vanilla beans for $20.00. I was wondering if quality could be had at this price given the quantity. There are dozens of v. bean sellers selling product much much higher. But, to my delight and long lasting customer experience you don't need to over pay for quality beans. At this price, I'm not hoarding a single bean in a test tube package. I'm USING them!!!

                Now I make my own vanilla extract, v sugar and paste from these beans.

                Which led me to purchase saffron and then dried mushrooms from this same very reliable source.

                1. re: HillJ
                  m
                  MacGuffin Apr 7, 2013 09:00 AM

                  The owner is a VERY cool guy. Try his Mexican vanilla extract if you've a mind. He's passionate about it. He steeps it in a sugar cane alcohol base and rounds out the flavor with a touch of piloncillo. Ambrosia, and very reasonable in price. He also has some wonderful flavor extracts--I love the coconut.

                  1. re: MacGuffin
                    h
                    HillJ Apr 7, 2013 09:01 AM

                    hey MacG. Thanks for the reminder. Still making my way thru the last order!

                    1. re: HillJ
                      m
                      MacGuffin Apr 7, 2013 10:45 AM

                      My pleasure! I always enjoy plugging vendors I like. I want to keep them available for ME and there's no better way to do that than to spread the word and keep them successful. :)

              2. m
                MacGuffin Jan 3, 2009 04:42 PM

                I haven't bought any saffron from them yet but based on my extract purchases, I wouldn't hesitate to do so. Their Tahitian vanilla is wonderful and their Mexican vanilla is sublime, a real speciality item with a sugarcane alcohol base. I stick with Penzeys double vanilla for Madagascar, but am thrilled with my saffron.com purchases, which also included some fantastic coconut extract. Their prices are extremely fair, as are their shipping rates. The owner is a fanatic about quality, very proud of his wares, and enjoys communicating with customers and answering their questions.

                1. b
                  BigEdAtl Aug 23, 2008 08:46 AM

                  I have ordered saffron and vanilla beans from them a couple times. I think the saffron is great, equally as good as any I have bought at specialty markets here in Atlanta. The price has gone up a lot in the last couple years, but its still reasonably priced.
                  I have read (on their website and others) that a lot of Spanish Saffron is really Iranian that is packed in Spain, sometimes mixed with some Spanish.
                  The Vanilla Beans are wonderful. Best I have ever bought, period. Soft, pliable, and so inexpensive that you can use them for anything that comes to mind. I gave some to friends who cook a lot and they agree.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: BigEdAtl
                    2
                    24601 May 29, 2009 02:43 PM

                    I'm in now way any kind of expert on vanilla so I really don't have anything to say there.

                    What I can say is that Iranian saffron is the best there is. The only reason that spanish saffron is desired is because they have so little compared to Iran. It's considered more valuable by some for that reason. The best spanish saffron that I've had is subpar compared to common Iranian saffron. Iranian saffron does vary in quality, but judging from the pictures that they have on their site, it seems to be a high quality saffron. All of my saffron comes from Iran, I have my father bring it back when he goes. He gets the best saffron that comes from around Shiraz. Obviously much cheaper than anything here in the US. The same goes for the Indian saffron, not really a big deal. It's just rare, so they get to charge more. This website seems like the best source that I've ever seen. Judging by their photos at least. Saffron should not be all that expensive. The grocery store prices are atrocious.

                    1. re: 24601
                      m
                      MacGuffin May 29, 2009 06:18 PM

                      If you purchase any, would you please post your impressions? As mentioned, I've had nothing but good experiences with these folks so I'd like a Hound's opinion on the saffron.
                      Incidentally, Penzeys has saffron from Kashmir and if they say it's good, I'm sure it is but it's quite expensive. They're another company whose products, in my experience, have always been stellar.

                  2. u
                    uviolet Aug 22, 2008 03:46 PM

                    I just bought 4 ounces of vanilla beans and some dried porcinis from saffron.com a couple of weeks ago. The vanilla beans are plump and amazingly fragrant, I used them in a cake and thought it turned out well. I haven't yet had a chance to use the mushrooms, but they have better color and are in larger pieces than the packs i buy from the local market at three times the cost.

                    They also included a small bottle of vanilla extract and some vanilla soap in the package which was a nice surprise.

                    If you live locally, you can call to arrange for pickup and avoid the UPS charges.

                    1. LindaWhit Aug 22, 2008 11:36 AM

                      A friend brought back saffron from Turkey (a small ziploc bag full!) about 10-12 years ago and gave it to me. I used it once, and didn't like it. WAY too harsh on the flavor - extremely bitter. I think she said she paid about $5.00 USD for it - this was enough saffron to cost maybe $3,000 or more if purchasing the higher quality saffron.

                      I think I'd stick with the Spanish or Kashmiri saffron. Some info on Saffron grading:

                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saffron#...

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: LindaWhit
                        Miss Needle Aug 22, 2008 01:58 PM

                        Thanks for your input Linda. I guess that's why they say to use less than what's called for in recipes. Sigh -- I'll just shell out the big bucks for my saffron.

                        I'm curious if anybody ordered the vanilla beans and dried porcini from them, though.

                        1. re: LindaWhit
                          m
                          MikeG Jan 4, 2009 01:07 PM

                          Are you sure your friend brought back true saffron, not safflower petals?

                          In the states, Indian grocers seem to have the best prices - around $30 for excellent quality Spanish saffron. Unfortunately I've only ever seen Kashmiri saffron from Penzey's and their prices may be lower than supermarkets, but they're still too high except as an occasonal conversation piece (I've tried it a couple of times and have not found the Kashmir superior to the Spanish I buy locally at a fraction of Penzey's price.) And now that Iranian saffron is legal again, you can find it at decent prices, at least in NYC.

                          Just noticed this thread was a recent revival - oh well...

                          1. re: MikeG
                            LindaWhit May 29, 2009 03:34 PM

                            No problem - always interesting with new information when a thread gets revived! And I don't know what she brought back - she was told it was saffron - and these were definitely bright orange stigma from flowers. Either way, it was awhile ago and I no longer have the bag she gave me.

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