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Though an expensive herb, saffron has a variety of healing properties.
Saffron or Kesar, the King of spices is undoubtedly the most precious spice in the world.
It takes around 4,300 of the beautiful royal purple flowers of the crocus plant to produce 28 gm of saffron. Its name comes from the Arabic word zafaran, which means yellow. The spice is obtained from the thread-like stigmas, exactly three of which are present in every flower. Hence, it is expensive that hundreds of rupees would buy few grams of good quality saffron. Fortunately, due to its intense flavouring and colouring power, a tiny pinch would suffice in any recipe — bringing it within the reach of the ordinary household wanting to create that special delicacy utilising saffron’s exquisite flavour and colour.
Saffron is believed to have originated and is still produced in Greece or Asia Minor. India is the ancient harvesting ground of some of the purest saffron in the world. In the beautiful valley of Kashmir, fields of saffron are found for close to 2,000 years.
The Babylonians used saffron for healing and colouring purposes. According to Biblical tradition, saffron was one of the fragrant plants that grew in King Solomon’s gardens. The ancient Egyptians burned saffron powder during their religious ceremonies. Saffron was probably introduced to Medieval Europe by the Crusaders who brought it from Arabia and India, and is mentioned in almost one-third of the recipes of that era. Cleopatra used it to give her skin a golden colour and romantic aroma. Saffron is also used in religious ceremonies. Tibetan Monks use saffron for prayer and blessing. Calligraphers have used saffron to write religious books such as the Koran.
Saffron pairs marvellously with rice, and is an indispensable ingredient in many classical recipes: Indian rice Pulav, the Risotto a la Milanese of Italy, and the Spanish paella to name a few.
In folk medicine, saffron has been attributed with various kinds of healing effects:
The traditional Kashmiri tea [Kava] is saffron-based drink which instantly brings warmth to the body.
Be careful. True saffron is expensive, has a deep orange to brownish red colour – the redder the strands, the better is the quality. Yellow saffron has no curative properties. Choose whole saffron threads over powder saffron. The threads have a better flavour and the curative qualities are higher. It is better to store saffron in an airtight container in a dark, dry, cool place. The flavour is better distributed when the spice is first allowed to soften in a little warm water than adding to food directly.
Add a few threads to your soups, broths, pasta, rice, risottos or simply add to cold milk with a little honey for a delicious drink. Saffron gives a beautiful tinge and a special aroma to the dish.
The French and Spanish use it in their specialties while it is an indispensable part of the Mughlai cuisine.
There is more to those delicate strands than you would expect. Go ahead, include this magical herb in your cooking plan.
Here are a few basic tips on using saffron.
— Team CW