Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Saffron worth its weight in gold

Last year a small pot of prized Kashmiri saffron returned home in my luggage. Purple Crocus sativus, commonly known as saffron crocus or autumn crocus. It is the only flower of the crocus genus that yields these precious threads.

via 
As the sun rises in early November, the people of Pampore, a small town about 10 miles from Kashmir's summer capital, Srinagar, head out to the nearby purple draped valleys, their backdrop the foothills of the Himalayas. 
Saffron use originated in Greece, and is also cultivated in Iran and Spain, but the fragrant Kashmiri Mongra strain is the most prized.

After the flowers have been picked they are spread around on low tables where nimble fingered women pluck the three dark red stigmas from each flower. It takes 500 of these stigmas roughly 165 flowers to produce a single gram of saffron - it is this painstaking extraction process that pushes the price so high. Following this they are dried in the shade for five days and then subjected to a rigorous selection process that separates them into four grades: the ultra rare Shahi, then the first grade Mongra, which is what I purchased, followed by the second grade supermarket quality Lachha, and the sweepings, which are sold as Zarda.

 It is easy to tell the difference: Mongra consists of thick, glossy strands, almost the colour of dried blood, and there will be no yellow present as in cheaper grades
To use your saffron 
For 4 people take 125mg of Saffron, soak in 20ml of warm water or milk, stir well and leave for 30 minutes. Add to your recipe along with the soaked threads as they continue to release aroma, flavour and colour.

38 comments:

  1. I've never purchased or used saffron. It just always seems so expensive and exotic.

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    1. It is expensive but mine cost a fifth of what it would have cost me to buy in the UK, and the quality would not have been of such a high grade.

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  2. Yes, this is so expensive ... but oh so wonderful.
    A lovely post to read, thank you.

    All the best Jan

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    1. That is very kind of you Jan - so pleased that you enjoyed reading it.

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  3. Many, and I do mean many, years ago when my Mother-in-law would travel with us to Spain each year she and I would buy up all the saffron we could find at about 1 peseta a packet. There was enough in each packet to make paella or chicken and rice. Wish we'd bought more.

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    1. May be you could travel to Spain again! Did you not buy it when you lived in Turkey too?

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  4. Persian cuisine includes many saffron infused dishes. One of my favorites is bastani. This ice cream is creamy yellow with saffron, a hint of rose water, and pistachios.

    If the lovely aroma of saffron greets you as you enter a Persian home, surely you are in for a treat!

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    1. I like making icecream so will give that a try - last week I made lemon curd icecream with Limoncello.

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  5. That's why saffron is so pricey!! I always wondered. That ice cream from Linda sounds yum!! Cheers

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    1. I am definitely going to make the Persian icecream Loi - sooner rather than later.

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  6. Hello Rosemary, What did you do with your saffron? I bought some a long time ago, but got sidetracked before I ever experimented with it. Even if fresh is best, I wonder how long it lasts?
    --Jim

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    1. I like to put saffron with cooked rice it gives it a lovely colour along with a subtle flavour. I also make a saffron cake, and now I will make Persian ice cream as per Linda's comment above.
      I was told that as long as I kept the saffron in the airtight container that it came in, and away from the light, it should last for several years.

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  7. Wonderful, beautiful, and informative - thank you, Rosemary! I copied your "To use your saffron" for my handwritten private cookbook - didn't know it that way!

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    1. It takes time to release its flavour and colour Britta - I am going to make the Persian icecream that Linda mentions when I have bought some rose water and pistachio nuts - can't wait to try it.

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  8. What a lovely summary of saffron growing and collecting. I have a small package in the cupboard that I use mostly for making paella. Now I'll appreciate it more.

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    1. Thank you for visiting Lorrie - the crocus only flowers for two weeks so the valleys are a hive of activity when they flower.

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  9. Oh my, looks like I've missed the best place on my world travels! I need to visit Kashmir and as much as it would be great to buy some good quality threads, I mostly would love to see and of course photograph, those colorful ladies in the crocus fields.

    Lovely post Rosemary. I've only bought/cooked with what is probably the yellow 'sweepings' - haven't even seen the red threads around here!

    Hugs - Mary

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    1. Dear Mary - the Mongra threads would have cost me at least 80% more to buy here, that is of course if I could have found it. I should have carried more back with me, but isn't that always the case.
      Indian ladies always looks so elegant even when working in the fields or as here in the valleys.

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  10. It's amazing how quickly the women can take the red out of the middle. There was a good documentary on Saffron on TV a long time ago. I remember watching it with intrigue.

    Reading you post reminded me.

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    1. They certainly need nimble fingers Margaret, glad this reminded you of the documentary you saw

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  11. Such an interesting post with some lovely photographs. I must admit I've never cooked with saffron, but I do feel tempted to use it. I had no idea that some is more prized and superior to the rest.

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    1. I am going to try and make the Persian icecream mentioned by Linda above - I have now got the rose water and nuts so ready to go and will be using the saffron too.

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  12. In Italy we make Risotto with Saffron...delicious ..and yes , a very expensive treat.

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    1. Oh yes! I love saffron risotto with parmesan shavings - yummy

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  13. Hi Rosemary -- Not on point, but I want to answer your comment today over at my blog. Yes, I do know that rabbit image! In fact, I used it less than a month ago in my March 19th blog post on Eostre. I just assumed it was a Celtic image honouring the Goddess (hares and the number 3 being sacred to the Triple Goddess) but wow! I didn't know of its ancient and multicultural history. Thanks so much for that link -- I'm going to buy that book and read it too.

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    1. I have just looked back at your post and although I saw it I appear to have missed seeing the image of the hares - sorry.
      I think that I will get the book too, and by the way I know one of the authors, Chris Chapman, he is an acquaintance of ours.

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  14. What a fascinating post Rosemary! I had no idea about the background of saffron until now. The photo of the people picking the flowers is so beautiful and magical.

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    1. It is interesting to imagine just how the ancients first discovered that this particular crocus and its 3 specal stigmas could be used in food to such good effect.

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  15. And the taste is lovely too...
    Nice and interesting post Rosemary!
    Love from Titti

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    1. Thanks Titti - I wish that I carried more back with me now.

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  16. What a lovely post Rosemary and how thankful we all are for their fantastic work which allow people from all over the world to enjoy saffron in both our cooking and baking. I guess us swedes are big consumers of saffron in December every year as the traditional saffron buns are baked in almost every home at that time. It just wouldn't be Christmas without those saffron buns. :)

    Take care sweet Rosemary and have a lovely weekend.

    Charlie
    xx

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    1. Sweden has it's saffron buns, Italy it's risotto, Spain it's paella, and Persia makes ice cream from it which I intend trying to make in a week or two. If it is successful then I will share the results.
      Hope that the warmer weather has arrived with you and that you are enjoying some sunshine.
      Take care dear Charlie♡

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  17. Hello Rosemary,
    Thank you for sharing how saffron is harvested. The dark red stigmas must permanently colour the harvester's fingers. (I wonder if they resemble the stigmas of the lily which has stained more than one of my shirts Ha Ha. I took me a while to figure out why, before realizing I would smell the lily each time I passed by)
    It is always the way when we return home we wonder why we did not purchase more.
    Have a great weekend
    Helen xx

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    1. Hello Helen - the Crocus sativus stigmas only release their colour when added to warm liguid and they have very little pollen being sterile unlike the lovely lilies that stain your shirt. When I have lilies, having also experienced staining, I tend to hold some kitchen paper under them and cut the stigmas off.
      Hope all is well with you Helen.

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  18. I have always wondered why saffron was so expensive. Interesting how they harvest it.

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    1. I remember many years ago when I first discovered that saffron actually came from this special variety of Crocus sativus, and being very surprised.

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  19. You can understand why it is so expensive with all the work involved. There is someone who is growing it commercially in England. We saw them at one of the River cottage events.I have never tried soaking it before cooking I will have to try that next time. Sarah x

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    1. In Tudor times it grew in Saffron Walden - hence its name, and I do know that a farmer living there is now reviving the tradition. Because it is so labour intensive it died out in England as the saffron growers were unable to compete with places like Kashmir and Iran. The farmer found a Tudor manuscript on growing saffron whilst browsing in a library, and is now supplying many top shops i.e. Fortnum and Masons, Harrods etc. Apparently it is very good on taste, sweet and very honeylike.

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