THE ROYAL CONDIMENT
Exotic saffron is the most expensive spice used in cooking.
Saffron, the royal condiment that grows in selected areas in the world. It is not produced in sufficient quantities to meet the ever-increasing demand for it. Not only is it used as a colouring and flavouring agent in rich desserts and other dishes, but it is also used in various medicines.
Saffron (Crocus sativus) has a long and interesting history. It has been used as a textile dye, a table condiment, a perfume and a medicine. It was considered a stimulant and a diuretic by Europeans till recently, and was used in whooping cough, measles and chlorosis. It is even now valued for its medicinal properties in Ayurvedic medicine.
Used in moderation, it is supposed to stimulate the stomach. Larger doses are said to excite the nervous system, specifically the brain, It is also used in cases of epilepsy and tetanus. â€œDried stigmas and tops of the stylesâ€” used in fevers, melancholia enlargement of the liver, stimulant, and stomachic in catarrhal infections, as a colouring and flavouring agent and in snake-bite.
The saffron crocus has 3 red stigmas and 3 yellow stamens. The red stigmata that are in common use have red filaments, broad and undivided at one end and tripartite at the other, with a volatile oil and a peculiar colouring matter called polychroite. The red stigmata with an orangish tip forms first grade saffron known as Mongra.
Extracted along with the yellow stem it is called Lachha and is considered second grade. More than 4,000 flowers are required to make just an ounce of saffron. No wonder that it is- the most expensive spice in the world and is thus likely to be adulterated with things like marigold petals etc.
Saffron is a must in Indian households in spite of its high cost and the possibility of adulteration. Known as kesar or zafraan inNorth Indiaor Kungurnapu or Kunkumapuvu in the South, it is used as a seasoning in pulao, Mughlai dishes and sweets.
Unlike most other crocuses, the saffron blooms in autumn. It can be easily grown in cold and temperate climates. It needs no special culture and can also be grown indoors or on moss without soil.
First the pretty purple flowers bloom, filling the whole atmosphere with a sweet and penetrating scent. Later comes the deep green foliage.
Often the whole flower is dried and then dipped in water. The petals and stamens, being lighter, float above, while the bright orange -red stigma, (real saffron) settles at the bottom. The stigma is again dried and stored in tin boxes, polythene bags, or even dry earthen pots.