by Samin Rizvi

Saffron derived from Crocus Sativus, or Saffron flower is the world’s most expensive spices by weight. Saffron strands are crimson styles and stigmas of the flower, which are dried and collected over a period. Saffron gets its unique taste and the hay-like fragrance from chemicals such as safranal and picrocrocin. The golden yellow hue is due to crocin- a carotenoid pigment.

History of Saffron:

A Greek legend states that a handsome mortal crocus fell in love with Smilax – a beautiful nymph. But his favours were rejected by Smilax, and he was turned into a purple crocus flower. However, the history of saffron cultivation dates back to more than 3000 years and spans various cultures.

Some believe that saffron was originated in Greece, Turkey, Iran and central Asia. Historical evidence state that saffron was brought to India by the Persian rulers around 500 B.C.

Although the origin and history of saffron are not precise, one of the first historical references comes from ancient Egypt, where it was used by Cleopatra as an aromatic and seductive essence. The ancient Greeks and Romans prized the spice for its use as a perfume and scattered it at public places. During the Roman Empire, The Emperor Nero had the streets of Rome sprinkled with saffron while entering the city.

Types of Saffron:

The three most widely used forms of saffron are:

1.Lacha or Mongra Saffron –  Cultivated only in Kashmiri Soil, Lacha Saffron can be distinguished from its dark crimson red threads. Darkest of all the Saffron varieties across the globe, it is considered the best saffron in the world due to its long-lasting flavour and aroma. Very expensive, Lacha Saffron is rarely found anywhere apart from India.

2. Aquila Saffron – Cultivated in the Navelli Valley and Sardinia in Italy, it is the Iranian Saffron also known as Aquila. Iran accounts for the largest production of Aquila Saffron in the world. This particular saffron type is shorter than Kashmiri Saffron, and hence the thread is small too. It is lighter red, but it is regarded high in quality. Produced in bulk, Aquila Saffron is available in abundance and is priced decently.

3. Creme and Spanish Superior Saffron: Commonly used in the USA, Spanish Superior Saffron contains more yellow parts from the style of the plant and higher floral waste which makes it less expensive than other saffron varieties.

Saffron Flower in India:

Saffron is a perennial plant which blooms in autumn. In India, 5,707 hectares of land comes under saffron cultivation. Its annual production is around 16000 kilograms. The state of Jammu and Kashmir ranks at the top of the saffron growing states in India. From 5,707 hectares of land under saffron cultivation, 4,496 hectares lie in Jammu and Kashmir alone.

In Kashmir, Pampore, which is 15 kilometres from Srinagar, is famous worldwide for its high-grade saffron. The spice is also grown in Kishtwar of Jammu. Pampore and its neighbouring areas produce about 2,128 kgs of saffron every year.

What makes Saffron the World’s Most Expensive Spice?

About 30 mg saffron can be yielded from a saffron flower. When dried, the quantity reduces to merely 7 mg. 1 gram of dry saffron strands can be produced from 150 saffron flowers and to get up to a kilogram of dry saffron strands, about 170,000 flowers are required and which in turn, needs 40 hours of manual labour.

Uses of Saffron:

  • Protects against cancer
  • Promotes learning and boosts memory
  • Increases vitality
  • Induces hair-growth
  • Protects against cold
  • Aids Arthritis
  • Improves Vision
  • Cures Insomnia
  • Improves Digestion
  • Heals wounds

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