Divine stigma Saffron is famous (or should that be notorious?) for being the most expensive spice in the world. Regency Spices regencyspices.hk sells a 50-gram "wholesale pack" for HK$1,440, which works out to HK$28.80 per gram. Yes, that is pricey, but a gram of saffron is a lot more than you'd need for an average dish - most recipes call for just a pinch of the spice, which gives a rich, exotic flavour and beautiful orange-gold colour to food.

Saffron is expensive because it is so labour-intensive to produce: the stigmas are hand-plucked from the Crocus sativus flowers, before being dried, in countries such as Spain, Iran, India, France, Italy and Turkey. Because saffron is so expensive, there are many counterfeits, which give the colour, but not the fragrance and flavour, of the real thing.

The spice is either sold in thin, delicate strands, or ground into a powder, with the former being far superior because it's easier to see if it's pure (although there are strands that look similar to saffron).

Saffron should be heated to bring out the flavour, usually by infusing it in a hot liquid (such as broth or cream), or by toasting it (I put it on a large metal spoon, then shake it gently over a gas flame).

Saffron is used in sweet and savoury dishes, including risotto, paella, pilafs and biriyani (from that list, it's easy to guess that it goes well with rice), cookies, cakes and breads, and seafood soups and stews.