From time immemorial if there was a spice that fascinated us, it is Crocus sativus, simply our Saffron. Right from Sanga ages, this has been in use with our forefathers, called gnazhal poo in Tamil, but the plant is a native of Persia. Native of South West Asia, this spice is actually the styles of the lilac coloured flowerof crocus sativus. The stigmas are dried and used in cooking, used as a coloring and seasoning agent. Just imagine,100 kgs of flowers are needed to get one kg of the famed stigmas. One can wonder why the cost for this special spice. Early Tamils identified the medicinal qualities of this spice, which was used to cure head aches and most importantly would help in painless labor for women. Our famed Greek Queen Cleopatra is said to have bathed in saffron mixed water! This is what has led to the famous or rather infamous myth- "Taking saffron by a pregnant woman whitens the color of the baby". We are not new to this myth, i was advised by Mother dear to drink two glasses of milk everyday with 5 to 7 strands of saffron mixed in it, when i was pregnant. My husband shelled out a fortune in buying the best quality Iranian Zah'faran!
Our own Indian Kashmiri saffron is considered the best, the 'Mongra' or 'Lacha' saffron, its unique color and flavour. In fact the other day i bought 0.75 gms of Kashmiri saffron for SAR 24 (Rs 288) and another 5g of Iranian zah'faran for SAR 160! Certainly it is one crop we would like to cultivate! I must say saffron is the most adulterated spice in the world, you can get anything ranging from Rs 50 to Rs 400 per gram. Adulteration in saffron started in Europe right in the Middle Ages, where saffron adulterers were executed. Boy would i love it if that rule was good today! Usually, the grades of saffron depend on the part of styles used. Each flower has three stigmas and two stamens.The stigma part collected is the purest quality which is usually deep red or maroon, the stamen is the next quality that has distinct yellow colored strands and the last quality is a potpourri of all mixed together. Finally i got to know, the purest saffron is the deep red stigma, not the yellow stamen.
This stigma is pure, the strand is yellow at the top and deep red at the base. Paying a fortune for a few grams of saffron is still in vogue, but i prefer to use it as a spice to bring color to our briyanis and other basmati dishes, instead of using artificial coloring agents. Pregnant women better watch out, adulterers use pomegranate fibres, dyed silk fibres and at times mixed with barirum sulphate, shredded fibres of grass tinted in safranin! Used with basmai rice, it can be an excellent cooking ingredient. Though shattering the myth is not possible, one fact remains true- It has nice flavour and color. So dear pregnant friends, next time you mix saffron in milk and wait for its color transformation, think of your baby and be happy, God sent you this spice, billed at SAR 160;)
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