Saffron is nicknamed the “sunshine spice.”Saffron is a member of lily family. It is a perennial spice of small bulbous shape. It is one of the most expensive spice in the world. The term “saffron” applies to the flower’s thread-like structures, or stigma.
As the cultivation of saffron is mostly done by hand. It takes about 75,000 saffron blossoms to produce a single pound of spice. Saffron is a plant. It is commercially produced in Iran, Greece, Morocco, Spain, Kashmir and Italy. Iran is the most important producer of saffron both, in terms of volume and quality, and Spain being the largest importer of the spice. Saffron is a labour intensive crop, which makes it so expensive. With 1 pound (450 grams) costing between 500 and 5,000 U.S. dollars. Saffron is harvested by hand from the Crocus sativus flower, commonly known as the “saffron crocus.”
It originated in Greece, where it was revered for its medicinal properties.
It has three delicate crimson stigmas in the centre, which are hand-picked, placed on a riddle, and cured over heat to amplify its flavour. Apart from being the most expensive spice, there are many benefits of saffron, which makes it even more special. Saffron can be used as an aphrodisiac, diaphoretic [to cause sweating], carminative [to prevent gas] and to bring on menstruation, to boost memory and mood.
Protects against cancer
Saffron contains crocin which is a water soluble, dark orange coloured carotene which is responsible for much of saffron’s golden color. It helps to destroy the cancer cells present in the human body and improves the performance of immune cells that destroy cancer cells.
Promotes learning and memory retention
Saffron reduces memory loss, inflammation and helps in the treatment of perkin’s disease.
A Powerful Antioxidant
Saffron contains a variety of plants compound that act as an antioxidants. Saffron antioxidants include crocin, crocetin, safranal, and kaempferol. These antioxidants protects brain cells against progressive damage, improve inflammation, reduce appetite, aid weight loss and have antidepressant properties. It also protects against oxidative stress.
May Improve Mood and Treat Depressive Symptoms
Saffron brightens up the mood of a person. It is also effective against depression.
May Reduce PMS Symptoms
Saffron helps to reduce PMS symptoms like irritability, headaches, cravings, pain, and anxiety. It helps to make the person feel better.
May Act as an Aphrodisiac
Saffron acts as an aphrodisiacs food that helps to boost libido. It also helps those who are taking antidepressants.
May Reduce Appetite and Aid Weight Loss
Saffron helps to reduce the appetite and helps to reduce weight loss.
May reduce heart disease risk factors
Saffron’s antioxidant properties may lower blood cholesterol and prevent blood vessels and arteries from clogging.
May lower blood sugar levels
Saffron may lower blood sugar levels and raise insulin sensitivity.
May improve eyesight in adults with age-related macular degeneration (AMD)
Saffron appears to improve eyesight in adults with AMD and protect against free radical damage, which is linked to AMD
May improve memory in adults with Alzheimer’s disease
Saffron’s antioxidant properties may improve cognition in adults with Alzheimer’s disease
Protects Heart Health
Saffron contains potassium which helps to lowers the stress and pressure on blood vessels and arteries, allowing blood pressure to decrease and relieving strain on the cardiovascular system. This can prevent things like atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes from occurring.
Improves Bone Strength
Saffron contains calcium which is essential for bones. It helps to increase bone mineral density and prevent osteoporosis and other age-related diseases.
Improves Nerve Function
Vitamin B6 which is found in cancer helps our nervous system to run smoothly and prevents the risks of dangerous disorders that arise from poor nervous system function.
Saffron helps to remove relieve pain, reduce anxiety and stress, improve sleep patterns, and generally soothe the mind and body. Safarani acts as a sedative and helps in relieving the pain.
Reduces Stomach Disorders
Saffron helps to reduce the stomach disorders. The anti-inflammatory and sedative nature of saffron helps to calm the stomach and reduce inflammation, which eases things like constipation, bloating, cramping, and other serious conditions like gastric ulcers.
Saffron helps to treat inflammatory conditions like arthritis, gout, suffering from injuries. It is a very powerful antioxidant which helps in relieving pain and discomfort. It also speeds the healing process.
Saffron can be eaten at any time of day. It goes well with every food item.
Ways to use saffron
- For a wonderful marinade for fish, add saffron threads, garlic and thyme to vinegar.
2. Use saffron to give cakes, pastries and cookies a buttery golden hue and a rich aroma.
3. Cook biryanis with saffron combined with cloves, cinnamon, Indian bay leaves and nutmeg for a memorable treat.
4. Crush a tiny piece of saffron into a glass of champagne or sparkling apple cider and turn the drink into a golden elixir.
5. Coffee spiced with saffron and cardamom is a soothing and heart healthy drink.
6. Add saffron and cinnamon to whole milk or yogurt and honey for a simple version of the famous Indian yogurt drink, lassi.
small doses, saffron has a subtle taste and aroma and pairs well with savory dishes, such as paella, risottos, and other rice dishes.
How to buy and store saffron
Buy saffron from a reputable brand to make sure you got the authentic brand.If the saffron appears too cheap, its best to avoid it. Store saffron in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.
It is available in three forms – saffron threads or stigmas, saffron tips, and saffron powder.
– Saffron threads or powder should be purchased from a reputed distributor. It should be packaged in foil to protect from air and light. Bulk saffron is usually sold in wooden boxes.
– When purchasing saffron threads, ensure that they are dark red in color. These should have orange tips and should not have any color variation. There should be no traces of yellow as they have no utility except adding dead weight. The redder the color, the better is the quality of saffron. If the tips are not orange, it means that the saffron is of inferior quality and has been dyed. Saffron threads with white spots and those with yellow stamens attached should be avoided. The threads should be hard and brittle to touch.
– It is a bit difficult to discern powdered saffron based on color as it is more likely to be adulterated. It generally has a lighter color than the saffron threads or tips. To ensure superior quality, it should be bought from a reputed brand or merchant. The next step is to examine its aroma. Saffron should have a strong and fresh aroma. It should smell sweet and not musty.
– Though saffron is available in both thread and powdered forms, it is advisable to prefer the thread if possible, as ground saffron has a shorter shelf life than the dried threads. It is usually mixed with other ingredients and lacks the quality and flavor of saffron threads. Moreover, saffron is an expensive spice. Thus, if it is available at a lower price, it is likely to be of inferior quality or may even be fake.
Uses of saffron
To increase vitality
In low libido saffron aids as a sexual stimulant and can be consumed in a dose of a pinch in a glass of milk at bed time.
In patchy baldness
Saffron mixed in liquorice and milk makes an effective topical application to induce hair growth in alopecia.
Protection against cold
Saffron mixed in milk and applied over the forehead quickly relieves cold.
In delayed puberty
A pinch of saffron crushed in a tablespoon of milk is useful to stimulate hormones and bring about desired effect especially in puberty.
Offers Radiant Skin
To get radiant and smooth skin, prepare the following face pack.
Mix 1 teaspoon of sandalwood powder, 2 to 3 strands of saffron, and 2 spoons of milk.
Wash your face and wipe with a cloth before applying this face mask.
Apply it while your face is still wet.
Massage your skin thoroughly in a circular motion.
Allow it to dry for 20 minutes, then rinse off.
This mask should be applied once a week for maximum results.
Lightens Your Skin
To get naturally fair skin,prepare the following
Soak a few strands of saffron in milk for 2 hours.
Smear this milk all over your face and neck.
Wash off after a few minutes.
Using this regularly will make your skin naturally fair.
Here’s another mix that you can prepare to get naturally fair skin:
Soak sunflower seeds (chironji) and saffron in milk and keep them overnight.
Grind this mixture in the morning.
Apply it on your face to get fair and glowing skin.
Adding a few strands of saffron to your glass of milk can also give you a glowing complexion.
Saffron strands can be sprinkled in your warm bath water. Let it soak in the water for 20 minutes. Use this water for your bath. This will lighten your complexion naturally.
Helps Treat Acne And Blemishes
Try the following remedy to get rid of acnes and blackheads.
Mix 5-6 basil leaves with 10-12 strands of saffron to make a fine paste.
Apply this on your face.
Wash off with cold water after 10 to 15 minutes.
This will help in getting rid of acne and pimples. Basil leaves can eliminate the bacteria that cause acne and pimples. Apply saffron soaked milk on your face twice a day to clear blemishes.
Treats Dull Skin
Try the following remedy
Add 2-3 strands of saffron to one teaspoon of water and keep overnight.
By the next morning, the color of the water will turn yellow.
Add one teaspoon milk, 2-3 drops of olive or coconut oil and a pinch of sugar to this saffron water.
Dip a piece of bread in this mixture, and dab it all over your face.
Allow it to dry for 15 minutes, then wash off.
This mask will freshen up dull skin as well as erase dark circles.
It also exfoliates your skin by helping blood circulation, thus making your skin smooth and glowing.
Saffron For Luminous Complexion
Try the following remedy
Add a few strands of saffron to honey.
Massage your face with this face pack.
This will stimulate blood circulation by providing oxygen to your skin. Using this face pack regularly will give you a glowing complexion.
Tones Your Skin
Saffron can help in toning up your skin. Soak saffron strands in rose water and apply it to your skin after scrubbing.
Improves Skin Texture
To improve the skin texture try the following remedy
Boil ½ cup of water for 10 minutes.
Add 4 to 5 strands of saffron and 4 tablespoons of milk powder to this water.
Apply it to your face.
Keep it on for 10 to 15 minutes and then wash with cold water.
This face pack will help to improve the texture of your facial skin.
Treatment Of Dry Skin
If you have dull and dry skin, you can prepare a mask with lemon and saffron. Lemon cleans your skin from deep within while saffron provides luminosity to it. All you need to do is:
Mix a few drops of lemon juice with a spoonful of saffron powder.
If you have very dry skin, you can add a few drops of milk.
Make it into a smooth dough and spread all over your face.
Leave it on for 20 minutes and wash off with lukewarm water.
Prevents Hair Loss
All you need to do is
Soak a few strands of saffron in milk and add licorice to the mixture.
Mix well till you get a paste. Apply this to your scalp and hair.
Leave it as it is for 15 minutes and rinse with cold water.
Repeat twice a week.
The same remedy can be used to combat baldness too.
For menstrual discomfort
500 mg of a specific combination product containing saffron, celery seed and anise extracts taken three times a day for the first three days of menstruation.
Season in which saffron is available
Saffron is available all year round
How to make saffron rice kheer – indian rice pudding
2 teaspoon ghee
¼ cup/ 45 grams pre soaked and drained short grain or basmati rice
4 cups/ 1 litre warm milk *
5 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt *
2-3 cardamom crushed
Generous pinch of saffron strands
¼ cup chopped / sliced assorted nuts
2 teaspoon rose water optional
1 tablespoon dried rose petals optional
Soak saffron in 1 tablespoon of warm milk and keep aside.
Heat up a heavy bottom non – stick pan . Add in ghee.
Now stir in the drained rice for 1 minute on medium heat.
Now slowly add in the warm milk .
Let it come to a boil. Stir occasionally .
Once it starts to boil , lower the heat and keep stirring often to avoid rice or milk sticking to the bottom and the sides.
The milk will start thickening and reducing within 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes , just check the rice , it should be tender enough .
Now add in the sugar, salt , cardamom and saffron milk.
Cook it for another 10 minutes. The milk should have considerably reduced.
Mash some rice with the back of the spoon if desired.
It might look thin , but remember after cooling and chilling it will considerably thicken up.
Stir in the chopped nuts .
Switch off the flame .
Serve warm or chilled .
Add rose water and rose petals just before serving.
Do not add sugar before rice is tender because the rice will take forever to cook . I microwave the milk for 3 minutes before adding to the rice, this just quickens the process. However you can skip the microwaving and directly add milk to the pan which will add up 15 additional minutes to the total time.I always use a pinch of salt in desserts as it brings out the flavors really well, it’s completely optional though.I have used almonds and pistachios . You can add nuts of your choice and raisins too.Adjust sweetness to your preference . If kheer thickens a lot after chilling, just stir in few tablespoons of cold milk at a time. Rosewater and food grade rose petals are completely optional.
How to make South Indian Style Pineapple Kesari
200gms coarse semolina
120 gms ghee
150 gms caster sugar
450mls warm water
12 green cardamom pods; seeds powdered
Generous pinch of saffron
170 gms pineapple cut into chunks
Handful cashew nuts roughly chopped
Pineapple Kesari (2)
In a measuring jug add the water along with the sugar. Dissolve and set aside
In a large non stick kadhai or wok add the 100 gms ghee along with the semolina. Roast over a low flame for 15-17 minutes as it begins to change colour and realise a nutty aroma
Slowly add the sugar water along with the cardamom powder and saffron. Stir well for 3 minutes as the moisture begins to evaporate and the kesari mix thicken Pineapple Kesari (3)
Add the pineapple chunks and keep stirring for 2 minutes. The Kesari halwa will begin to leave the sides of the pan. At this stage add the remaining ghee. Stir well, turn the heat off and cover leaving to rest for a few minutes
In a small pan heat a little extra ghee and fry cashew nuts. Serve the Pineapple Kesari warm garnished with fried cashews
There are not any specific risks of taking saffron. However, saffron should not be taken during pregnancy and nursing.
Large doses of saffron is also very harmful. It can cause poisoning like yellow appearance of the skin and eyes, dizziness, vomiting, bloody diarrhea, or bleeding from the nose, lips and eyelids.
Saffron can be adulterated with with other ingredients, such as beet, red-dyed silk fibers, turmeric, and paprika.
Combining it with other herbs or supplements with hypotensive capabilities might increase the risk of hypotension (low blood pressure). Some of these herbs and supplements include andrographis, casein peptides, cat’s claw, fish oil, CoQ10, L-arginine, stinging nettle, lycium and theanine.
Fun facts about saffron
- The name Saffron comes from the Arabic word,” zafaran ” which means yellow and it is the official color of Buddhist robes in India.
- The best quality saffron has a deep red color, a honey like aroma with a delicate taste but musky and earthy.
- Spain, India, and Iran are primary producers of commercial saffron.
- It is estimated that it takes some 14,000 stigmas to produce only one ounce of saffron threads. The labor-intensive process makes the cost of these bright red threads upwards of $50 per quarter-ounce.
- In 1444 any merchant caught selling adulterated saffron in Bavaria was burned alive.
- Saffron-based pigments have been found in 50,000-year-old depictions of prehistoric places in north-west Iran. Later, the Sumerians used wild-growing saffron in their remedies and magical potions.
- In ancient Persia saffron threads were woven into textiles, ritually offered to divinities and used in dyes, perfumes, medicines and body baths. Saffron threads were scattered across beds on the wedding night of the newly-wed, who were also offered saffron powder in hot milk as an aphrodisiac.
- During his Asian campaigns, Alexander the Great used Persian saffron in his infusions as a curative for battle wounds
- Damp and hot conditions damage saffron crop which can tolerate extreme low temperatures( even less than minus ten degree Celsius).
- Saffron has also been used as a fabric dye and in perfumery, particularly in China and India.
- It is also used as an insecticide or pesticide!
- Modern medicine has discovered saffron as an active anti-mutagenic, immune modulator, anti-depressant, antioxidant and sex-stimulant
- It is believed to help in ailments like indigestion, high blood pressure, menopausal problems, gastrointestinal and scabies.
- Deep saffron is the colour of the upper band of the Indian National Flag, representing courage, sacrifice, patriotism and renunciation.
- Kesar is also referred for lions, as the standard complexion of lions is saffron.