Kashmiri Saffron

The Rich Heritage Of Saffron In Kashmir

The Rich Heritage Of Saffron In Kashmir

Kashmir is home to many extraordinary heritages, one of them being the most expensive and valuable spice in the world, what we like to call- The Red Gold of Kashmir- Saffron.

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On the way to a small town in Pampore, famously known as Kashmir’s “Saffron Town” lies a vision of loveliness with hundreds of purple flowers scattered on both sides of the road. It is a highland that has all favorable environmental conditions to grow the indigenous crocus sativus that produces saffron.

Over 30,000 families in Kashmir are associated with the cultivation of saffron and about 16,000 kilograms of saffron is produced annually.

Here is what Mumina had to say about her family including herself being in the saffron business-

“ My great-grandpa started cultivating saffron at a young age, who, I guess, was taught by his father. He did not move to the city, enjoyed his life here, and became excellent in saffron picking. It is his legacy that has been passed down to us. Now my father owns many fields of saffron, that is our only source of income. It is a very profitable business, but we do not compromise on our rates or quality”.

The Cost Of Saffron

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The price of one gram of saffron will cost you somewhere between 250 to 300 Indian Rupees that would be 3.37 -4.05 US dollars.

1 kg of saffron costs around 2.50 -3 lakh Indian rupees that has a value of 3372 – 4046 US dollars.

It would be necessary to mention that although the conversion rates are 3-4 dollars per gram,  it sells for 10 dollars per gram in the US, making it a whopping 10,000 dollars per kilogram. 

There may be a difference in rates among the cultivators of saffron in Kashmir as some sell it wholesale.

Rates will vary drastically as every country sets a different price. 

What Makes Kashmiri Saffron Different From Saffron Produced In Other Countries?

Countries like Iran, Greece, Morocco, Spain, and Italy are some leading producers of saffron. But the quality India produces through Kashmir is unbeatable. To understand how, read the following.

The color, flavor, and aroma of saffron depends upon the chemical compounds crocin, picrocrocin and safranal respectively. The saffron cultivated in Kashmir naturally yields to have a higher concentration of crocin in it, about 8.72%. It is higher when compared to the Iranian variant that is 6.82%.

In addition to that, Kashmiri saffron has longer and thicker stigmas, a hypnotic deep-red color, bitter flavor, high aroma, and of course naturally harvested chemical-free processing.

Harvesting Of Saffron

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Crocus sativus is a type of corm plant. These corms are sowed in summer and are ready to be harvested mid to late autumn.

This flower requires delicacy, so it must be harvested by hand. 

It is a labor-intensive process and farmers believe that mechanical plucking damages the saffron crocus flowers, ultimately degrading the quality of saffron.

One flower yields only three stigmas. According to statistics, it takes somewhere between 15,000 to 16,000 flowers to produce 1 kilogram of saffron.

Challenges Faced By Saffron Cultivators

Saffron cultivators have faced many challenges throughout the years. The most recent challenge has been the aftereffect of global warming. Global warming has caused the weather to change dramatically, providing unstable weather conditions for saffron to grow. When there is intervention in the growth of the flower, the yield will also be affected. 

Given its high price, adulteration of saffron is yet another challenge faced by owners of saffron fields. For saffron adulteration, normally inexpensive and available plants, less important parts of the saffron plant, minerals, artificial colorant, weight agents, animal substances, and artificial substances are used. (1)

Low-priced saffron products immediately convey that the product is of inferior quality. But how would one possibly know if a seller is selling low-grade saffron labeled as high-grade saffron for a hefty price? –By The GI tag! The GI (geographical indication) tag was introduced in Kashmir in May of 2020. This GI tag identifies the product as originating from that territory where a given quality, reputation, or characteristic of the product is essentially attributable to its geographic origin. ( according to the article Article 22 (I) of the World Trade Organisation Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement)

How And Where Is It Used

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Saffron is used in many different ways. If we talk about its use in Kashmir, it is exquisitely used in garnishing dishes and is a key ingredient in the ice-cream Kesar kulfi. 

Kahwa, the traditional Kashmiri tea, is made with whole spices, saffron and almonds. The saffron used in it gives such a wonderful taste to the tea, one could go on drinking it forever!

Other than that, saffron is used worldwide, in different cuisines. Some of the exemplary dishes would be Risotto Alla Milanese (Italian rice dish), Tachin (Persian saffron rice), Lussebullar (Swedish saffron buns),  Spanish rice, Paella (meat and seafood dish), biryani, bouillabaisse (French stew) and so many more.

Tip of the day–  if you are interested in buying saffron, go for the mogra saffron, which is the best quality saffron found in kashmir. An authentic seller will let you know the type, if he is asked.

References: 

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128186381000204#:~:text=Besides%20synthetic%20dyes%2C%20saffron%20powder,for%20adulteration%20of%20saffron%20powder