Ever since saffron has discovered, it has been put to use. Kashmiri saffron, especially, which is famous all over the world, has been a part of our cuisines from a long time now and finds a place in special cuisines in celebrations and occasions. Be it pigmenting, dying or its use as a spice or condiment, It has been the first choice of those food lovers who have a deep knowledge about how to make their favorite recipes more interesting and delectable.
The Journey of Saffron to Kashmir:
It was in 1821, during the rule of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, when Colonel Mian Singh who was the then governor of Kashmir tried to cultivate saffron on the slopes of Damodhar Udar and Mart and but it didn't work. It was an exquisite monopoly at that time. Under independent Sultans, saffron flowers were being picked by laborers in return for some salt. Later under Shahjahan, this cruel system abolished and he ordered the proper remuneration of these laborers. Under Pathan rule, saffron produce auctioned. The highest bidder would deposit the money into the government treasury, collected the flowers and sold them as he wished. Many wouldn't be aware, but saffron picking is a very challenging task, as its pungent fragrance can cause severe headaches or even unconsciousness.
In Kashmir, Pampore, an area situated at a distance of around 14 km from Srinagar known all around the world for its top quality saffron. At the peak of the saffron season, the blossoms of saffron cover large fields in a fresh purple layer. This sight is as magnificent as exotic the spice is.
Pampore and some of its neighboring areas produce an average of 2128 kilograms of saffron every year. It is sown in the month of August till 15th of September. The flowers are finally picked in the month of October and November. During the time of harvest, the atmospheric conditions shouldn't be too hot, which is why this activity done early in the morning. The ideal time for the harvesting of saffron starts from sunrise to 10:00 am. After harvesting, the flowers left to dry for around 5 days and later transferred to an air-tight container. Nowadays a solar dryer used instead. It only takes 7-8 hours for the entire production to be fully dry. Note here that in order to obtain a meagre 0.45 kg of dry saffron, it requires harvesting 50,000 flowers, which equivalent of a football pitch in an area.Types of Saffron/Kesar:
Just as it is prized in many parts of the world, It is harvest in many parts of the world too. The general characteristics, however, remain the same and won’t very much, yet there are some distinct qualities to each different type and the admirers tend to have their own preferences and choices.
Let’s take a look at the broad categories of saffron that the world of exotic spices has to offer:Spanish Kesar:
This is one of the most sought after species of kesar in the world and its origins lie in the most magnificent places of the same country. This exotic spice is usually sold in small bundles of long red strands and adored all over the place for the intense yellow color it imparts and a unique flavor to whatever cuisine it is blended in.
Saffron was actually introduced in Spain during the Arab rule. Arabic cooking was already well known for its rich aroma and flavor and was the most used and essential seasoning and coloring agent in the majority of their recipes. Apart from this, it was also used as a medicine, infusion and an aphrodisiac.
Spanish Saffron cultivation requires lots of suns and a well-draining soil. If it somehow gets planted on poor and swampy lands, it gets rotten. Spanish kesar has to be properly positioned on the ground about three to five inches deep. About 50-60 saffron flowers produce around one tablespoon of Spanish saffron.Afghani Kesar:
The dry and arid climate of Afghanistan makes it ideal for saffron cultivation. As a matter of fact, in certain parts of Afghanistan, the cultivation of this spice has been successful. Perfectly suited to the environment and climate, Afghani kesar has very well established itself among local traders, farmers and the end customers and consumers.
The cultivation of saffron is believed to have spread across the country by the efforts of the United Kingdom and the European Union. Pitying the condition of the cash strapped and impoverished Afghani farmers, these two promoted saffron cultivation to help empower the nation.
Since Afghani saffron has an empowering history for the locals, its cultivation would respected and this spice is consider as the most important one. In fact, a saffron field is taken care of as much as is possible. So much so that kids are not allowed to roam around too much around the field lest they step over the cultivation and destroy this sensitive crop.
Afghan saffron needs a limited amount of fertilizer, and too much fertilizer might damage the produce. It has been realize that too much fertilizer results in excessive growth of the crop which leads to quality issues later.Persian Kesar:
Something that Persia is proud to own is its Kesar, one of the most expensive spices that are revered in the land. One of the reasons it is highly priced is that it cannot be commonly found except for a few places which have earned its name “red gold”. There might be adulterated species available around, but the flavor, color and quality that Persian saffron has to offer.
Just as its other local produce which mesmerizes the world, Kesar is one of the biggest exports of Iran. In fact, Iran covers about 70% of the world’s total saffron production. Maybe that is the reason it is known as ‘Zafran’.
When it comes to saffron cultivation, there are many types that can cultivated in Iran.
Sargol: Sargol is considered as the best quality kesar which consists of just the red stigmas of the saffron crocus.
Pushal: This category also contains red stigmas mostly, along with a small number of yellow ones.
Bunch: Bunch saffron contains a smaller amount of red stigmas and mostly yellow styles, and this one is a lower category of saffron.
Konge: This is just yellow styled saffron. It has the aroma of kesar but barely any coloring ability.
Persian kesar threads have vivid crimson color. These have a strong and fresh aroma and are dry and brittle to touch.Persian vs Kashmiri Kesar
Because of its high quality, Persian kesar is often compared to Kashmiri kesar. These two are hard to differentiate, that Kashmiri saffron has a slightly broader stigma head.
Measuring the quality of saffron
Being rich and expensive, saffron is that one spice which has found cheap copies available with almost all parts of the world. As such it becomes quite a strenuous task to identify which one is pure and which one is not.
The quality of saffron is most commonly measured in terms of the color it gives out when the strands are mixed with warm water or milk. When it comes to coloring strength, note that the higher the coloring strength, the better quality saffron it is. The coloring strength is denoted by a two or three digit number. Hence 96, 180, 235 strength saffron qualities can be found in the markets or online. The higher the number, the better the quality
According to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), saffron, having a coloring strength of 190 and above can be considered as grade one saffron. Kesar with a coloring strength of exactly 190 and 250 are considered the ones with the best quality.
USES OF KESAR
Saffron has been used for centuries together all around the world as a coloring agent or as a flavoring spice. But very less among us know that it has some essential health benefits to offer. As a matter of fact, it is one of the oldest herbs to be used by our earlier generations for its medicinal properties.
According to history, Cleopatra is believed to have used saffron on her skin for a golden glow and an unbelievable aroma. In addition to this, Tibetan monks are believed to use it in their religious ceremonies. Also, some calligraphy artists have written the Holy Quran with saffron.
Some more uses of saffron include:
The carotenoids present in saffron promote healthy eye conditions by protecting it from muscle degeneration and cataracts
It is rich in antioxidants which helps in improving memory.
It acts as a mood enhancer
It helps with joint pains
It helps in increasing appetite, lowering down indigestion, vomiting, and diarrhea
It provides relief from acidity and gas related problems.
It helps cure insomnia
It is a blood purifier
It relieves period pain
It paste, when applied to an injury, helps with its healing