What is Saffron?
Some beautiful Saffron Flowers in full bloom in sunny autumn
The statement “Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world" is undoubtedly correct, looking at price per gram. Approximately 1, 50,000 flowers are needed for 1 kilogram of dried saffron. There are other several plants that can give a yellow orange color to the food; yet none of these has the hypnotic fragrance of true saffron. You can fool the eye, but not the taste buds.
Saffron, a spice derived from the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus (crocus sativus) a small plant about a foot tall. Each flower has three female parts (stigmas) two male parts (stamens) each stigmas is red or dark red in color towards the top and yellow towards the bottom of the stigma, where it is attached to the flower. Saffron has a bitter flavor and strong sharp penetrating scent. The flavor, aroma and coloring capability come from the red part of the stigma. The yellow part has no value as a spice.
The crocus sativus stayed in bloom only for about three to four weeks. The stigmas have to be harvested by hand, when the stigmas are dried, they are called saffron. The higher the coloring strength of the saffron, the less you have to use in a dish to achieve the required effect. Saffron has its own unique taste that is indescribable and really there is not anything else that can be used as a substitute. The flowering period of saffron starts during middle of late October and lasts until the second week of November. However, the number of saffron flowers and the time of blooming in any year are dependent upon the temperature prevalent in spring and autumn and upon the amount of rainfall.
Saffron Flowers in Saffron fields of Pampore
The cultivation of saffron needs an extreme climate, the soil must be equilibrated in organic material in order to avoid risk of erosion, and have some depth that allows the water to drain so that the bulb is not damaged. The sowing takes place in the months of June and July. The bulbs are placed in ridges of about 20 cm. depth. The distance between the bulbs should be of 10 cm. The sowing of bulbs is a very hard job because it is done by hand and forces you to walk in a bent position for hundreds of yards. The rose of saffron blooms at dawn and should stay the least possible time in the plant because it withers quickly and the stigmas loose color and aroma. This is why they are gathered between dawn and 10 a.m.
Saffron said to be "possibly the first spice ever used by man," first known to be the herb of the sun and now used in a variety of ways inside the home and out.....Though saffron is worth its weight in gold, and even today it is the most expensive spice in the world. But sadly its high price led to its adulteration, Henry V111 who cherished the aroma of saffron, even condemned to death adulterers of saffron.
Men and Women harvesting Saffron crop at Pampore Kashmir
Saffron is known by different names in various Indian languages. In Sanskrit, the plant is named as keshara, kunkuma and arsika. The Hindi and Punjabi names of the plant are zaffran and kesar, The Guajarati speaking people know the plant as keshar, while in kannada it is called as kunkuma kesari. The Marathi speaking people call it as Kesar and kesara. While it is called kungumapu in tamil, the telegue name of saffron is kunkumapuva. In Urdu and Arabic it is popular as zaffaran and above all in Kashmiri this golden spice is known as koung.