Saffron: a must-have spice for every kitchen

Saffron is not just rich in flavour and aroma but also in the benefits it offers

Saffron strands

The mere mention of saffron conjures up a cosy memory from my childhood of my grandmother giving me hot milk to drink at night with a few sprigs of saffron in it. Its bright colour would add character to the milk. But the reason that she or other ladies of that era did that was more than aesthetic. This regal spice of matchless aroma has innumerable health benefits.

Health benefits

  • Saffron offers antioxidant properties that help fight damage done by free radicals and prevent cancer.
  • It also has anti-depressant properties and has a soothing effect on the nerves.
  • It improves blood circulation and prevents hardening of the arteries.
  • It is touted for its abilities to boost memory power and is hence recommended for children and seniors.
  • It induces sound sleep.
  • Studies have found saffron to help improve eyesight.
  • It helps relieve arthritic pain.
  • Massaging the gums with saffron helps reduce soreness and inflammation.
  • The spice eases irritation, depression, mood swings and other pre-menstrual symptoms.
  • It helps lighten complexion if consumed on a regular basis.
  • Saffron oil is good for the skin and also provides relief in insect stings or skin eruptions.
  • It relieves fatigue and muscle inflammation by enhancing oxygen diffusion in the blood.

Consume with caution

Saffron is a very potent spice and a small pinch of sprigs is all you need to use. Consuming over 5g of it in a day can lead to toxic reactions like nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite and drowsiness. Consuming 10g in a day can lead to miscarriages, and consuming 20g can be life-threatening. It is best used after soaking in water overnight.

When you buy…

You need 75,000 flowers just to make one ounce [about 28g] of it. That’s why it’s expensive. And that’s also the reason that it is one of the most adulterated spices. There’s no dearth of people selling fake strands of this spice. Hence, you need to be extra cautious when buying it. When buying, check for bright yellow-orange colour. Also, chances of getting cheated are less if you buy it as strands instead of buying it in powdered form. To differentiate between genuine and fake ones, simply soak one strand in warm water or milk. If the milk or water changes its colour immediately, then the saffron is fake/adulterated. Remember, it takes about 10 minutes of soaking in warm liquid for genuine saffron to lose colour or give out aroma.

it takes about 10 minutes of soaking in warm liquid for genuine saffron to lose colour or give out aroma

How to store

Keep it away from sunlight and moisture in an airtight container. If it is exposed to sun rays for long, it begins to lose its colour and flavour. Stored properly, it can easily last for 3 – 4 years, after which it starts losing its flavour.

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In your diet

Saffron has been used to flavour the foods of the royalty. Hence, it has been considered the spice of the rich. You can use saffron to flavour or colour food too. It is mainly used in soups, sauces and rice preparations to give them a bright yellow colour and a distinctive flavour. You can even use it to garnish desserts.

A version of this was first published in the May 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Deepshikha Agarwal
Deepshikha Agarwal is a Mumbai-based dietician and sports nutritionist. She writes nutrition-related columns in newspapers and conducts corporate workshops. She also teaches and conducts lectures on diet and wellness isues.


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