Whether you call it Safran in French and German or Kesar and Zafran in Hindi, the love and stories of Saffron have been all around. Poets have found inspiration in it, saints have worshipped it and even, Mughal Emperor, Akbar was so mesmerised by it that the windows of his palaces would overlook saffron fields. So, what makes this spice stand out?
Saffron is a spice as well as a colour. It can be dated back to 3000 years, being used in rituals and medicinal purposes. The strands of saffron are enriched with antioxidant compounds, antidepressant properties and are proven to improve mood, memory and cognitive ability. Its benefits don’t end here. Luke Coutinho, adviser of Integrative Lifestyle and Nutrition tells us, “The antioxidant properties of saffron can help neutralise free radicals and may help in inhibiting the growth of cancer cells. It also has anti-bacterial and exfoliant properties which help in treating acne, unclog skin pores and remove blackheads.”
A good amount of the world’s saffron crop comes from Kashmir, the silken strands grown in Pampore are considered to be more valuable than gold. But, why? While onlookers and sightseers can feast their eyes and senses on the sight of saffron fields, plucking delicate blossoms of more than two lakh to produce just one kilogram of saffron where the petals and stamens have no value at all, is indeed a humungous task. It is just the stigmas that contain the precious spice. Hence, its labour-intensive process bestows upon it a super-luxury status.
For ayurveda, Saffron is a prized possession. Chef Harangad Singh of Prankster and Pro says, “Ayurveda teaches that saffron has both invigorating and nourishing qualities. It bestows its strongest medicinal actions on the blood in anaemia, has a good effect on the heart in case of angina and cardiac congestion, furthermore, it aids painful or difficult menses and schedules the delayed menstruation.” This spice is considered as a reward that balances all the three doshas of the body in assimilation of nutrients, tissue formation and flushing toxins out of the body.
The benefits and medicinal properties of this highly priced spice make it a valuable culinary ingredient worldwide. Owing to its aromatic flavour, it entices top chefs to use it in exotic dishes which has no replacements. Chef Aashish Singh of Cafe Delhi Heights tells us,
“Saffron is used to preparing seafood dishes such as French bouillabaisse and Spanish paella. It is also used in dishes ranging from Italian Risotto and other rice dishes, fish with saffron sauce and saffron burbala sauce.” Chef Saurabh Udinia of Farzi Cafe adds, “Saffron will always be a staple ingredient that sits in the deepest part of the pantry in many kitchens all over the world. Not that it is pushed back there to be forgotten, but it is there to prolong its shelf life.”
Story by: Tejashee Kashyap - Intern at L'officiel India