The Gist of Science Reporter: April 2014

The Gist of Science Reporter: April 2014

Saffron the Golden Spice

A strong and haunting aroma, a characteristic bittersweet taste, saffron bestows a golden hue to all the dishes it graces. A high value and low volume cash crop, and highly labour intensive, saffron is one of the world’s most expensive price. It is used mainly as a source of secondary metabolites with have incredible aromatic, medicinal and therapeutic values.

The name saffron is derived from the Arabic word Zaffran, which means yellow. Saffron is called Kesar in Punhabi, Kum kum, Keshara and Arsika and Sanskrit, Zffran in Hindi, Urdu, Arabic, Persian, and Koung in Kashmiri. Cultivation of saffron dates back to 550 A.D.

The saffron crop was first cultivated in Greece. Today, it is cultivated from the eastern Mediterranean to India. The saffron growing areas are located at an altitude of 1600-2100 metres above the sea level. The largest producers of saffron include Iran, Spain and India, which together account for more than 95% of the world production. France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, Azebaijan and Morocco are the other producers of saffron. In India, about thousands of hectares of land are under cultivation in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. India produces about 10% of the world’s supply of saffron.

Kashmir has the proud privilege of being one of the few places in the world where saffron in grown. Pampore, located about 13 kilometres from Srinagar, is a place where this high-priced crop is growth on the elevated (karewa) topography. The karewa soils are brown to yellowish brown and slightly alkaline in nature. Kashmiri saffron is considered the best in the world due to its distinctive long silky threads with a dark red colour and thicker heads, pleasant aroma, powerful colouring and flavouring qualities.

Saffron consists of the dried stigmas and tops of the styles of the lower of the plant Crocus sativus, which belongs to the Iridaceae family. Pure saffron consist of only the orange-red stigmas of the saffron plant. Although the yellow stamens are also harvested, they do not have the same aromatic odour and colour properties compared to stigmas. Saffron stigmas should be red with orange tips. Threads that lack orange tips may be dyed, thence should be avoided.

Types and Grades of Commercial Saffron

There are three grades of saffron available in the Indian market: Saffron Lachha, Saffron Mongra and Saffron Zarda. There are three grades of saffron classified based on colour, floral waste content and foreign matter:

  • Special (Moongra)
  • Standard (Lacha), and
  • Grade standard (Guchi)

The price of saffron is generally decided by the physical appearance of eh product, colour and percentage of floral wastes and foreign matter.

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