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What is Saffron?

Saffron is an exotic spice that is processed from the blossom of Crocus sativus, also popularly known as “saffron crocus” in lay terms. It qualifies as the most expensive spice as the saffron price per kilo is higher than that of any other spice on earth. It is often packaged and sold in packages of 2 gm or more. A tiny quantity of saffron is sufficient to colour or flavour food as it has a compelling, earthy, flavour adds that distinct yellowish-orange colour to various food preparations. The plant grows up to 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) in height, and each plant bears just 4 flowers, each one bearing three stigmata in bright crimson colour.

These stigmata, known as saffron threads, are carefully hand-plucked and dried to be sold as one of the most sought after colouring and seasoning agents in the world. This exotic spice purported to carry amazing health benefits, is native to Southwest Asia and was first discovered and cultivated extensively in Greece. Slowly, it traversed all over Eurasia before being introduced in parts of the Americas, North Africa and Oceania. The chemicals picrocrocin and safranal are responsible for the distinct aroma of saffron , and it owes the distinct orange-gold hue to the carotenoid pigment crocin. No wonder that all it takes is a couple of threads of saffron to colour and flavour an elaborate dish.

Historically, the health benefits of saffron have been clearly recorded in detail by Ashurbanipal, the Assyrian king who lived in the 7th century, and wrote a botanical treatise highlighting the qualities of saffron. This commodity has been traded extensively over four thousand years, and today Iran accounts for almost 90% of the world’s saffron productionand sales. The name saffron may have originated from the French term safran, which in turn is derived from the Latin term safranum. Another school of thought propounds the belief that saffron originated from the Arabic az-za’faran, though safranum is derived from the Persian term za’faran.

How to use Saffron?

Saffron, also known as kumkumapoovu in Tamil, Zafran in Arabic, and Kesar in Hindi is referred to as the king of spices. It is used in most of the traditional dishes, and the saffron health benefits are known the world over. Prescribing saffron during pregnancy, though in small quantities, is an age old practice as it takes care of the typical hormone surges related with pregnancy, and helps control the mood swings successfully. Consuming just a few strands of original saffron mixed in milk helps regulate the blood pressure in pregnant women. Saffron also helps treat common complaints associated with pregnancy like constipation, flatulence, etc by enhancing blood flow to the digestive system.

Consuming small quantities of saffron during pregnancy helps in preventing morning sickness, by fighting the nausea and dizziness that most pregnant women suffer from during the early stages of pregnancy. Saffron is a great natural spice that can be consumed by normal women also. In addition to being an effective painkiller, kesar benefits include relief from joint and muscle aches, and helps prevent cramps. Moreover, original saffron is very beneficial for the heart, thanks to the presence of antioxidants, potassium and crocetin, which help control the accumulation of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood.

Saffron has a calming and soothing effect on the body, and works as an effective, natural sedative. It helps cure sleeplessness, as drinking saffron mixed in a cup of warm milk helps get a good night’s sleep. Although saffron price is very high and beyond the reach of many,saffron benefits far outweigh the price. Saffron is great for teenagers as it also helps rectify hormonal imbalance and helps cure pimples and blemished skin. Apart from adding saffron to various dishes, the next best way to use saffron is to consume it after mixing it in warm milk.

How to choose Saffron?

Given that saffron is the most expensive spice, great care has to be taken in choosing genuine organic saffron, which is also known as “red gold” due to its distinct colour and frightfully high price, and that is why fake saffron is often palmed off as the genuine one. According to the bureau of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) saffron needs to meet ISO 3632 certification to be declared pure, which also indicates there has been no adulteration.

Corn husk is a favourite with adulterers as its resemblance is closest to saffron. All that needs to be done is to colour the corn strands suitably to palm it off as genuine saffron after adding a bit of artificial flavour. Genuine saffron can be easily identified by the distinctaroma of saffron, apart from the colour. Moreover, genuine saffron is never sweet to taste, hence the best test would be to put a small bit in your mouth and if it is the least bit sweet, it certainly is fake. Moreover, the natural colour of saffron does not wash off in water when soaked. If artificial colour has been added it will bleed when soaked in water.

Another indicator is the price. Nowhere can you find saffron at dirt cheap prices, and if any tout is offering you saffron at half the price, claiming that he or she has a secret source, be sure that someone has indulged in adulteration of saffron. Some people try to cheat in the weight of genuine saffron. They do not dry the saffron properly, and leave it in the shade for drying, so that a lot of moisture is retained. As saffron is sold by weight, you can end up paying more for moist saffron, which will ultimately lose weight when stored. A stigma of genuine saffron cannot weigh more than 2 mg, and it takes 250,000 saffron flowers to weigh a kg.

How to store Saffron?

Saffron Storage Tips:

Why storage important ?

Saffron is probably the most expensive spice in the world; hence extra care needs to be taken while storing saffron. Moreover, it is the aroma of saffron that gives it the special status, and if this pleasant aroma is lost due to poor storage.The very purpose of using saffron would be lost. Storing saffron in a proper manner helps preserve its freshness, taste and aroma for a long time.Saffron is highly sensitive to light. Its one of the reasons why harvest of its flowers is before sunrise.When saffron is exposed to light, it stands to lose its aroma and taste.

Hence in order to retain saffron colour taste and aroma. It is vital to store it in an airtight container. If stored properly, the aroma of saffron can be retained for at least a year or so. It is better to store saffron in special airtight glass jars that have special lids.

What is the shelf life ?

However well you pack, preserve and store organic saffron, it should not be kept for more than two years. In order to prevent exposure to light and air, it is better to wrap saffron strands in aluminium foil, which can then be placed in the smallest container so that there is not much air circulating inside.

Where to store saffron ?

Store the bottled saffron in a cupboard, preferable a wooden cupboard as metal can get heated during summer.Saffron is best stored in a cool, dark place, where no source of light, artificial or natural can reach. Do not store saffron in a refrigerator as genuine saffron tends to absorb moisture easily once it is exposed to room temperature. If you must store it in a refrigerator, remove only the required quantity and place the container in the fridge immediately, so that moisture loss is reduced.

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