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Also Known as
Kesar, Zaafaran, zaafran, safron
Saffron is a very expensive spice, used to flavour and colour food. Saffron originated in the Middle East, but is now also associated with Greek, Indian and Spanish cuisines.
The spice is actually the dried stigma (tiny threadlike strands) of the Crocus Sativus Linneaus, a member of the iris family. Each stigma is very small, and innumerable strands go into a one-gram pack of the spice. Since the stigmas are hand-plucked from the individual flowers, saffron's high cost becomes more understandable.
It is thought that saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. Fortunately, a very little saffron goes a long way - it is a spice to be added one thread at a time.
How to Select
• Do a bit of research on the source and strength of the saffron before purchasing.
• The strength of saffron is judged by its colouring and flavouring intensity.
• Buy from a reliable source as there is a change of contaminating such an expensive spice.
• Always buy sealed packs, after checking the date of packaging.
• Saffron is a premium spice, used to colour and flavour both sweet and savoury dishes including kheers, halwas, pulaos and biryanis.
• Although a costly spice, just a thread or two is enough to lend its lasting impact to a whole bowl of food.
• When working with saffron threads, avoid using a whisk or wooden utensils that tend to absorb the saffron. It is best to soak the saffron in warm water or milk for a few minutes and then rub the strands with your hands to bring out the flavour.
• Masala milk is a delicacy, wherein milk is coloured and flavoured with saffron, and further enhanced with other spices like cardamom and nuts too.
• Most readymade foods which claim to have saffron, including commercial saffron rice mixes, use a substitute which dyes the rice with the distinctive yellow but does not impart the flavour of true saffron. So, look for a reputed and reliable brand when buying some foods.
How to Store
• Good saffron has an extremely long shelf life if stored in an airtight container away from light and moisture.
• Saffron is widely used in Ayurvedic remedies for a range of conditions from arthritis and asthma to infertility and impotence.
• Saffron has a reputation for strengthening the stomach and promoting its functioning.