Saffron. Kesar. The one spice that makes me go weak in the knees. The color, the aroma, the flavor, everything’s a catch.
However this is said to be the most expensive spice in the world. And while I’m no investigator, I like to believe that, since I just bought my very first packet last month for about 200 Rs a gram.
Took me two weeks of waiting and a lot of courage to open it. I finally managed to gather the guts and rip it open and use a few strands to make this.
I remembered from some time ago when I’d seen saffron covered up in fungus, as the tiny plastic boxes they come in are not so strong or air tight.
Saffron strands are actually the stigmas from saffron flowers. They are dried and fermented a bit. Three stigmas come from one flower. So the entire tedious process of planting and harvesting just to produce such a tiny amount, is what makes it so expensive. Although a tiny strand goes a long way to release a good amount of color and flavor to your food.
About 500 stigmas make 1 gram of saffron. And 1 part saffron to 1,50,000 parts water can turn the water yellow and leave a notable flavor. So its always worth it.
How I bought it:
Saffron is available as threads i.e the whole stigmas or ground. Whole stigmas are your best bet as they retain flavor for long and you can kind of be assured that they are pure as can be seen. Ground saffron tends to lose flavor pretty early. Plus they might be adulterated. So I asked my mom to buy this airtight packet for me which contains a little plastic box inside.
How I stored it:
It needs to be stored in dark, shady, cool and dry places in air tight containers. Also its better if the container is small. That way there’s less space for air circulation.
So I decided to use this tiny honey bottle. I cleaned it, allowed it to dry and wiped it with a soft cloth.
I transferred the saffron strands to the bottle and shut the lid tight.
Saffron loves dark places as it is sensitive to light. So I covered the bottle further with a piece of aluminium foil.
That way it won’t lose flavor, color and aroma that quick.
How I use it:
They say 6 months is the time period for benefiting your food with maximum flavor. So don’t forget to get it out and use it up. Most of the times the expiry date does not indicate the date that makes it unfit for consuming. It just means it will start to lose its qualities gradually. So I use in my kesar almond milk, biryani, chaai, sweets, kheers, basundi, gulab jamuns, nimbu–kesar sherbet and many more recipes.
Most of the time I soak saffron strands in warm milk for a couple of minutes and I use the milk in my food. This can be done even in water. The longer it steeps the stronger the flavor and colour.
If I require ground saffron, I gently toast the strands on a pre-heated pan and then grind them with a pestle. This needs to be done with caution as they can burn in no time.
And finally before adding them to food, I crush them a bit using my fingers. While doing this I make sure they are pre-soaked in milk or water and the crushing happens while they are in there, as otherwise most of the flavor and color might end up on the fingers instead of the food.
Here’s something cute:
Many cooks have come up with an economical way of using and re-using saffron strands. They steep a few strands in a few tablespoons of hot liquid for 10 minutes, use the liquid in their recipe, then dry and reuse the threads a second time. I’m soon going to try this out. Although drying and storing them again is going to be a pain.
That’s all about saffron. Enjoy. Do sniff it once in a while. Just the heavenly aroma will make you want to cook up something saffrony!