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Saturday, 19 May 2012

Saffron land!

Kashmir is known for several reasons. The "Switzerland of India" as many people call it; the rare Pashmina wool; the Dal lake. Also, the the incessant borderline dispute between India and Pakistan. There are however certain other things about this beautiful state that not many people are aware of. One is its cuisine, and the other is its spice. Overlapping as these two things might seem to be, this post is particularly about the latter.

The main spice that is grown in Kashmir is the saffron. There are several extremely interesting properties about this spice that are worthy of mention. One is its cultivation, the details of which follow :

Saffron is essentially the dried stigma of the flowers of the saffron crocus (scientific name Crocus sativus). The sativus is a small plant that grows to maximum height of 30 cm and bears up to four flowers. The plant flowers for a very short period every autumn - say for a couple of weeks only, when the cultivation is done quickly. That is one of the reasons for its extremely high price. The other reasons include that of the plant being very sensitive to climate, and require just the right combination of sun-shade-water to produce good quality spice. As a result of this, saffron is cultivated only in a single district in Kashmir,  in all of India.

the flower of the Crocus sativus. Notice the orange stigma. That is saffron.
Saffron prices are very high - so high that they are cited in grams, much like gold and silver. One gram of this spice - ie, one gram of the dried orange stigma of the flowers costs ₹ 200. Compare that with silver - ₹ 55 / gram and yes, your mind is blown.



pure saffron. This much will set up back by half a thousand rupees.
 Saffron's uses are many and varied. It's a prized natural flavour all around the globe. It adds that unique flavour and taste to sahi Indian curries. In the much loved biryani, in the famous Kashmiri dessert phirni, and in other North Indian sweets like the kesari rasmalai and the gulabjamun. Saffron is also used in Kahwa, a refreshing spicy-tea like beverage that is popular in Kashmir.

kahwa. Have this when you go to Kashmir. It's awesome.
The third, and one of the more significant reasons for its high price is the intensity of its flavour. It is in fact, so high, that a glass of milk requires just one dried stigma to get the required flavour and colour.

Also noteworthy is the fact that saffron never spoils. As long as its kept out of moisture and dry, it will stay pristine for decades.

Saffron's high price and value in the international market make it susceptable to adulteration. Adulterated saffron contains extraneous substances like beet, pomegranate fibres, even artifical red silk fibres.

So yes, if you are buying saffron, take the utmost care or else you will easily be fooled.
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