Saffron: The Golden Spice Of Kashmir – History, Origin & Health Benefits Decoded

By Dikshita Nahar

Origin & History Of The Golden Spice

The golden spice of kashmir – Saffron is one of the most precious and sought after spices. The undisputed king of spices – saffron has an interesting history and immense medicinal benefits. Let’s go on a journey to know more about this spice. Kashmiri saffron is the sweetest, most precious spice in the world. Its strands are thicker and more fragrant than its counterpart from Iran, which accounts for more than 90 percent of the world’s saffron production. Saffron, scientific name Crocus Sativus, is a purple flower and the spice we know is actually just a part of that flower, the stigma. There are only three stigmata per flower, so it takes about 75,000 of these flowers to make one pound of spice. In addition, the harvesters do all their work manually. As a result, saffron is a labor-extensive crop that is also the most expensive spice in the world. Historically, saffron has been at times worth more than its weight in gold. This plant is believed to be native from Asia and nowadays is cultivated in Spain, France, Italy and Iran. Of these, the latter country accounts for 85 percent of the world’s production. The history behind the word “saffron” itself is another testament of its rich cross-cultural heritage. It entered the English language through old French, which in turn took it from Latin, where it arrived from the Arabic za‘farān .

On historical accounts, the mention of this spice was found in ancient Persian records. Many researchers suggest that, among other spices, was first spread to India via Persian rulers’ efforts to stock their newly built gardens and parks. They accomplished this by transplanting the desired cultivars across the Persian empire. Another ancient theory states that, after ancient Persia conquered Kashmir, Persian saffron crocus corms were transplanted to Kashmiri soil. The first harvest then occurred sometime prior to 500 BC. Phoenicians then began in the 6th century BC to market the new Kashmiri saffron by utilising their extensive trade routes. Once sold, Kashmiri saffron was used in the treatment of melancholy or depression and also as a fabric dye. On the other hand, traditional Kashmiri legends state that saffron first arrived sometime during the 11th and 12th centuries AD, when two foreign and itinerant Sufi ascetics, Khwaja Masood Wali and Hazrat Sheikh Shariffudin, wandered into Kashmir. The foreigners, having fallen sick, beseeched a cure for illness from a local tribal chieftain. When the chieftain obliged, the two holy men reputedly gave them a saffron crocus bulb as payment and thanks. To this day, grateful prayers are offered to the two saints during the saffron harvesting season in late autumn. The saints, indeed, have a golden-domed shrine and tomb dedicated to them in the saffron-trading village of Pampore, India. However, the Kashmiri poet and scholar Mohammed Yusuf Teng disputes this. He states that Kashmiris had cultivated saffron for more than two millennia. Indeed, such ancient indigenous cultivation is alluded to in Kashmiri Tantric Hindu epics of that time.

In Jammu and Kashmir, four districts – Pulwama, Budgam, Srinagar and Kishtwar – grow saffron. Among the four, Pulwama district’s Pampore has earned the title of Kashmir’s “saffron town” for growing the best quality saffron. The soil quality in this area is highly suitable for its cultivation and yields the prized “Kashmiri saffron” known for its aroma, colour and medicinal value. The town’s saffron is considered to be of superior quality because of the presence of a higher concentration of crocin. Its crocin content – which gives the saffron its darker colour and medicinal value – is 8.72% as compared to the Iranian variety which contains 6.82%.

Health Benefits Of Kashmiri Saffron

Saffron is rich in plant compounds that act as antioxidants, such as crocin, crocetin, safranal, and kaempferol. Antioxidants help protect your cells against oxidative stress. Both compounds may have antidepressant properties, protect brain cells against progressive damage, improve inflammation, reduce appetite, and aid weight loss. Saffron is nicknamed the “sunshine spice.” That’s not just due to its distinct color, but also because it may help brighten your mood. Studies suggest that saffron supplements were significantly more effective than placebos at treating symptoms of mild-to-moderate depression.  Both the saffron petals and thread-like stigma appear to be effective against mild-to-moderate depression. Saffron is high in antioxidants, which help neutralize harmful free radicals. Free radical damage has been linked to chronic diseases, such as cancer.  Both eating and smelling saffron appears to help treat PMS symptoms, such as irritability, headaches, cravings, pain, and anxiety. Saffron has been shown to reduce snacking and curb your appetite as theories suggest that it elevates your mood, which in turn reduces your desire to snack. Saffron has been linked to several other potential health benefits, such as improved heart disease risk, blood sugar levels, eyesight, and memory. Saffron has a subtle taste and aroma, which makes it easy to add to your diet. It pairs well with savory dishes as well as Indian desserts and should be soaked in hot water to give a deeper flavor.

Kashmiri Pulao Recipe

Kashmiri Pulao is one of the staples in the state of Jammu & Kashmiri where they add Kashmiri saffron and dry fruits to elevate the taste of the dish. Now let’s look at the recipe to make this delicious dish at home.

  • 1 tbsp ghee
  • 10 cashews (halved)
  • 3 tbsp raisins
  • 15 pistachios
  • 1 tsp jeera
  • 1 medium sized bay leaf
  • 2 pods cardamom
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 5 cloves
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 medium sized onions (thinly sliced)
  • 1 green chilli (slit lengthwise)
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 tsp ginger-garlic paste
  • ½ tsp kashmiri red chili powder / lal mirch powder
  • 1 cup basmati rice (soaked for 30 minutes)
  • 1½ cups water
  • 2 tbsp saffron milk
  • 2 tbsp coriander leaves (chopped)

Method:

Firstly, in a pressure cooker add ghee and let it melt. Further add cashews, raisins and pistas. Saute on low flame till they turn aromatic. Keep aside. Further add all spices and saute till the spices turn aromatic. Additionally add onions, green chilli and ginger-garlic paste. Saute till the onions turn slightly golden brown. Furthermore, add chili powder and salt. Saute on low flame till the spices are cooked well. Now add soaked basmati rice for 30 minutes. Add 1.5 cups of water and give a good stir. Also add saffron milk and fried dry fruits and mix gently. Pressure cook for 2 whistles on medium flame. Then once the pressure is released, gently fluff the rice. Finally, serve kashmiri pulao with onion tomato raita.

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