How does one describe the aroma and flavour of a spice as exotic as saffron? Floral? Earthy? Subtle? Musky? Definitely not spicy!
And what makes it so priceless? Why is it often referred to as a luxury spice? Believe it or not, but the thread-like strands of saffron are actually a part of a flower called the stigma. Each flower, of this plant commonly called ‘saffron crocus’, has three orangey gold strands. They are very delicate, and therefore have to be carefully handpicked. They are then dried and packaged. The cultivation, harvesting and handling of the flowers are all a laborious process, hence the exorbitant price. Hundreds of stigmas make a gram of spice!
Delicate flowers with orange gold stigmas
One of the most expensive spices in the world, saffron plants are grown in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and India. Heard of ‘Spanish rice’ or ‘Kesar Kulfi/ice-cream’? Incomplete without saffron.
Both the colour and the aroma make this spice irresistible. When a few strands are dropped into a bowl of water they exude a beautiful reddish gold hue. A pinch added to any dish, from a biryani to a variety of sweets, gives it that fragrant flavour, and an irresistible taste.
Fields of saffron flowers
Saffron comes in different qualities. It is sometimes mixed with non -stigma parts and other adulterants like paprika, for bulk and colour. Of course, the quality dictates the price.
Always ensure that you buy it from a trustworthy source! The flavour, the colour and the length of strands are instrumental when you make your choice. Saffron is usually sold in small air tight containers.
Strands of flavoursome saffron
Besides being used for culinary purposes, saffron is also used to dyes fabric and as an ingredient in medicines, cosmetics and perfumes.
A pinch of this vividly crimson, prized possession is certainly worth it and will go a long way in making your dish aromatic and flavourful!