04 October 2013

Saffron - An expensive spice that has enormous values

Crocus sativus commonly known as Saffron is one of the well known and expensive spice used widely around the world. Saffron is said to be derived from the stigma of the saffron plant. The Saffron plant belongs to the family of Iridaceae. This plant is native to many places around the world such as Central and Southwest Asia, Greece, Central and Southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and the islands of the Aegean. Saffron is a perennial plant and it is believed to be originated about 3000 years back. The name Saffron is believed to be derived from the Latin word 'Safranum' and the plant is said to be cultivated first in Greece. Saffron is also called as 'Kesar' in Hindi and 'Kumkumapoo' in Tamil.

While searching about the history of this Saffron plant in India, I came to know that this plant was brought to India by Persians while they conquered Kashmir.

Saffron Flowers :

Saffron is a perennial plant whose height ranges from 15 to 25 cm. It is mainly cultivated for its flowers and the spice derived from the stigma of the flowers. It consists of purple color flowers with red stigmas inside which is called as 'Saffron'. Each flower comprises three red stigmas and these stigmas are the female part of the flower. Even though it is a perennial plant, the flowering period of the plant is said to be from mid or late October to first / second week of November and it is also said that sometimes it might vary depending upon the temperature during the spring and autumn. The purple buds can be seen in the autumn and only in October it get sets to bloom. The Saffron plant gets well adapted to a cool dry climate with rich soil conditions. As per some analysis, researchers say that it requires about 70,000 to 2,50,000 flowers to make one pound of saffron.

As we have seen already, Saffron is nothing but the three stigmas inside the flower and it is used commercially only after the stigmas are dried properly. Some cultivators of Saffron say that a Saffron cannot be duplicated so easily as their original aroma and color shows off how fresh it is. The word Saffron is said to refer the color 'yellow'. The flower of the Saffron flower is believed to possess a sweet honey-like aroma which also has the taste of little bitterness.

Saffron threads :

Images Courtesy : Internet

Cultivation of Saffron in India :

Kashmir is predominantly known for its Saffron cultivation. As we have seen earlier it is the Persians who are believed to have brought the Saffron plant to Kashmir. The Pampore town near Srinagar of Jammu and Kashmir is popularly known for its Saffron cultivation for about 2500 years !!!

Kashmir is considered one among the three prominent places of Saffron cultivation around the world. The Kashmir Saffron is believed and widely recommended by many legends for its innate quality. It is said that major part of the Saffron cultivated here are exported to many countries around the world. It is said that there are three grades of Saffron in India . They are Saffron Lachha, Saffron Mongra and Saffron Zarda. It is believed that the Saffrons of Kashmir has long deep red colored stigmas. The legends of Saffron cultivation says that the size of the stigmas determines the quality of it. Since Kashmir possess the rich alluvial soil, the saffrons grown here is said to have a magical aroma by its cultivators. Amidst all the Saffrons produced around the world, the Kashmir saffrons are always well known for its flavor, color power and its wonderful aroma. The Saffron cultivation is a boon for many cultivators because of its rich value . As per an article read in a popular newspaper, as on March 2013, it is estimated that the Saffron would approximately cost Rs. 2.5 lakh per kg.

Saffron at home

Uses of Saffron :

          ~*   Saffrons are mostly used for culinary purposes. It is believed that only a little amount of Saffron can be used and it is said to be more than enough for dishes. Consuming more than its normal level is not advisable.

            ~*  Saffrons are mostly used in culinary to add flavors, colors and taste to the food.

            ~* The kesari powder that are used for adding colors to the food is derived from the leftover bits of Saffron harvest. The kesari powder is obtained from leftover bits of Saffron and little turmeric added to it.

           ~*   The Kashmir saffrons were soaked in water to provide golden yellow color and it is used for fabric dye.
            ~*  Saffron is also used as perfume.

            ~*   Despite its culinary uses, it is also possess medicinal values. Saffrons are used to suppress cramps and are also said to be used for  anesthetic purposes.

            ~*  Saffrons are also used in herbal medicine for treating respiratory problems.

         ~* It is also used in the treatment of health disorders like asthma, paralysis, insomnia, heart diseases, hemorrhage, flatulence and gout.

            ~*  As per an article in Times of India, 'Saffron' has been named under the 'Eight Indian spices that prevents cancer'.  A natural carotenoid dicarboxylic acid called 'Crocetin' is identified to be the primary cancer fighting element of Saffron. It is believed that this 'Crocetin' acid not only prevents the progression of this disease but it also decreases the size of the tumor by half which helps to cure the cancer completely.  
I think the price of the Saffron doesn't matter when it does such a miracle to a person suffering from diseases like cancer.

Note : consult your physician before following the above points.

In Kashmir - the Kingdom of Saffron, no celebration is said to be complete without their traditional dish called 'Saffron Kehwa/ Kashmiri Kehwa'. Here I'm sharing about that beverage ,

Kashmiri Kehwa :

(Servings for 4)

Ingredients :
Kashmiri Green Tea  - 4 teaspoons
Saffron threads        - 4  pinches
Cardamom               -  2 (crushed)
Almonds                  -  8 (blanched & chopped)
Cinnamon                -  1 stick
Cloves                     -  2
Sugar                      -  2 teaspoons                          

Method :

        Boil 3 cups of water along with cloves, cardamom and cinnamon. Then mix this with 4 teaspoons of green tea. Leave this mix to boil and infuse for a while in low flame. At the other end, dissolve Saffron in a little water by gently rubbing it . Now Once the tea is ready, strain it and add this Saffron liquid to it. Then garnish it with chopped almonds and serve hot.

References :

 Recipe Source : vegetalindia                         
Saffron cultivators in Kashmir says that not a single part of the plant is wasted. They say that after harvesting the Saffron in the late autumn, the petals of the flowers are used as vegetables and the stems are given to the animals. They consider the red stigmas - 'purest Kashmir Saffron' as 'The Golden herb'. Indeed it is a golden herb gifted by God with enormous values.