Saffron Rice

Saffron rice is a uniquely aromatic, flavorful side dish. Made with basmati rice, saffron threads, and a bit of broth, this fluffy saffron rice recipe is an aromatic, flavorful side dish that everyone will appreciate.

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a field of crocus flowers from which saffron is derived.
Crocus status flowers awaiting harvest.

In this post, I’ll show you how to make a recipe of saffron rice that will delight and impress your friends and family, but before we get into the directions, let’s talk about this rare spice and why it’s so special.

What is saffron and where is it from?

Saffron is the stigma of the crocus status flower (a.k.a saffron crocus), pictured above.

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It is grown in regions throughout Iran, Pakistan, India, and other South Asian countries, as well as Northern Africa, Greece, Spain, and Italy.

Why is saffron so expensive?

Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice (by volume) and is consequently referred to as “red gold.” One kilogram of saffron can cost three thousand dollars.

Why? Because each flower has only three stamens, it would easily take 80,000 flowers to equal a kilogram (about 2 pounds) of useable saffron. The stigmas must be hand-harvested from each flower, a delicate and precise process that adds to the cost.

crocus flour with the saffron stigmas.

Watch out for fakes

Like all premium products (that command higher prices), fakes abound. Think San Marzano tomatoes.

Some unethical purveyors will blend saffron with other “ingredients” to stretch the yield, which ultimately denudes the quality of the product. See this Business Insider report on how fake saffron is destroying the red gold industry.

Kashmiri saffron is the only saffron in the world with a G.I. (Geographical Indication) registration authenticating its product as pure and unadulterated. Look for this designation if you want to be sure you’re getting the real McCoy.

ingredients for the basmati rice with saffron.
Just a few simple ingredients are all you need.

Ingredients for saffron rice recipe

blooming the saffron with hot water.
Bloom the saffron in a little hot water (or broth).

What’s the best saffron for this rice recipe and where can I buy it?

There are many different grades of saffron, but for this rice recipe, I’d focus on finding a reputable source for the spice and a G.I. certification, like this 1-gram package of Kashmiri saffron {affiliate link} on Amazon.

I had a jar of Spanish saffron from Penzey’s (pictured above), which is what I used.

Note: Though it is an expensive ingredient, you only need a pinch of saffron (~ 1/2 tsp saffron threads) for the rice recipe.

The saffron after steeping for several minutes.
Steep the saffron in the hot water for several minutes.

Best rice for saffron yellow rice

Plain white rice tends to be a bit starchy with a chewy texture and shorter grains. It also has a more neutral flavor, not quite what you want for this dish.

Although you can use long-grain rice to make this saffron recipe, I prefer basmati rice. It has a nuttier aroma and more distinct grains, and the nutty flavor pairs very well with saffron.

You don’t need a fancy rice cooker for this recipe. Your stove top works better. It’s also easy to make, and the rice will be perfectly fluffy and fragrant every time.

Make the saffron rice recipe:

  1. Use a mortar and pestle to mash half of the loose threads (or break them down by rubbing the saffron between your fingers. Leave the other half of the saffron threads uncrushed.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the saffron and hot water to bloom. Set aside. (Note: I heat the water in the microwave until it’s steamy).
  3. Rinse the basmati rice in a colander under a faucet until the water runs clear. Set aside to drain well.
  4. Saute the onions in a skillet until they are tender and slightly translucent.
  5. Add the rice and cook for 1-2 minutes to dry it and lightly toast it.
  6. Stir the saffron mixture into the basmati rice until it takes on its distinctive yellow color.
  7. Add the chicken broth and stir to combine.
  8. Turn up the heat to high and bring the saffron rice to a boil, then reduce the temperature to low, cover the pan tightly with the lid and simmer for 15 minutes.
  9. Remove the covered skillet from the heat and set aside for 10 minutes. This allows the rice to steam.
  10. Remove the lid and use a fork to fluff the basmati rice with saffron.


Use a fine mesh strainer to rinse the basmati rice very well, and then set it aside for several minutes to drain and dry before adding it to the sauteed onions. Excess water will quickly dissipate in the hot pan and give the rice a chance to lightly toast, which adds more flavor to the rice.

Steaming saffron basmati rice

When making rice, the usual ratio of water to rice is 2:1, and the grain cooks for a full 20 minutes to absorb the liquid.

For this recipe of saffron rice, we use slightly less water and simmer the grains for less time (about five minutes less). Letting the slightly undercooked rice steam in the pot with the lid on allows the grains to absorb the liquid (steam is a liquid) entirely.

Steaming also cooks the delicate saffron rice perfectly, so the grains are separate, fluffy, and not at all sticky or gluey.

steamed saffron yellow rice.
This is how the rice looks after simmering and steaming.

I love this saffron rice recipe as it is, and to me, it doesn’t need any embellishment. But if you were to make any additions, these would work well.

Variations to the recipe of saffron rice

  • Sprinkle ¾ cup of frozen peas in an even layer over the saffron rice for the last 10 minutes of steaming. The peas will defrost in the steam—fluff with a fork.
  • Add a sprinkle of freshly grated parmesan cheese when serving saffron basmati rice. It will enhance the nutty flavor of the dish.
  • Add ½ cup of chopped bell pepper when sauteing the onions for pops of red color and sweet flavor.
  • Add a handful of chopped pistachios for texture.
  • Add a cinnamon stick, cardamom pod, and golden raisins when adding the broth to a simmer. Discard the cinnamon and cardamom before serving. They’ll add another layer of aroma and flavor to the saffron basmati rice. Add chopped parsley for freshness and contrasting color.
fluff with a fork.
Use a fork to fluff the rice into individual grains.


What does saffron taste like in rice?

Saffron has a very subtle and unique flavor. It’s rich but soft. A bit floral and somewhat buttery, though there’s no butter in it.

Is yellow rice and saffron rice the same?

It can be. However, most commercially available yellow rice is colored with turmeric, not saffron. And if it does have any saffron, it’s the last ingredient listed (meaning there’s only a nominal amount). Make saffron basmati rice from scratch for the best results.

What nationality is saffron rice?

Many countries claim it, from Iran and Morocco to Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India. Kashmir, the disputed land between Pakistan and India, is the only country with a G.I. certification for authenticated saffron without adulteration.

Is saffron rice healthy?

Yes. The health benefits of saffron are many. It’s an antioxidant and is considered to have a host of beneficial properties including being an antidepressant, protecting the brain against progressive deterioration, reducing inflammation and reducing appetite to improve weight loss.

a bowl of saffron rice.

Saffron rice is a delicious side dish that pairs well with just about any protein or even vegetarian specialties. It’s used to make everything from Biriyani to Paella. Here are just a few things we like to serve it with.

What to serve with saffron rice

A batch of golden yellow saffron rice recipe in a white bowl with a spoon.

More rice recipes you’ll love:

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a white bowl filled with saffron rice and a spoon.
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4.60 from 5 votes

Saffron Rice

This saffron rice recipe uses basmati rice, onion and broth for a simple, but fragrant, flavorful side dish. It’s easy to make and this yellow rice is special enough for company.
Author: Lisa Lotts
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Middle Eastern, Morroccan
Keyword basmati rice, rice, saffron
Dietary Restrictions Dairy-Free, Egg Free, Gluten-Free, Vegan
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 4


  • heavy bottom skillet with lid (about 8″ in diameter with 3″ sides or higher)


  • scant ½ teaspoon saffron threads
  • 2 tablespoons hottest tap water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • cup finely chopped yellow onion
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt or ¼ teaspoon Morton’s Kosher Salt or iodized salt
  • 1 ¾ cups chicken broth from rotisserie chicken or low-sodium broth


  • Crush half of the saffron threads with your fingers to crumble them and add to a small glass bowl. Add the remaining saffron and pour the hot water over the threads. Set aside for them to bloom.
  • Rinse the basmati rice with fresh water in a fine mesh sieve until the water runs clear. Set aside.
  • Place the skillet over medium high heat and warm it until the skillet is hot but not smoking. Add the olive oil and swirl around the pan. Add the chopped onions and sauté for 3-4 minutes until they’re softened and slightly translucent.
  • Add the drained rice to the skillet and stir with a wooden spoon to combine.
  • Add the saffron and blooming liquid to the rice and stir until the rice starts to turn yellow. Stir in the chicken broth and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil and immediately reduce the heat to low. Cover the basmati saffron rice with the lid to simmer.
  • Cook the rice for 15 minutes, then remove from the heat and let it rest with the lid on for an additional 10 minutes. (This will steam the saffron rice).
  • Fluff the rice with a fork and transfer to a serving bowl.


Calories: 222kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 6g | Fat: 4g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 3g | Sodium: 325mg | Potassium: 162mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 0.3IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 21mg | Iron: 1mg

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One Comment

  1. Marie-Christine says:

    5 stars
    Saffron is one of those “spices” I buy once a year for occasional paella. Lovely color and the saffron flavor is delicate and warm. The boxed yellow rice can’t hold a candle to the real thing! I’ll pull out the saffron tonight!