All about saffron - flavor, quality, and price
Saffron, harvested by hand from the Crocus sativus flower or saffron crocus, is a trumpet-shaped thread - the stigma of the flower. Widely used for its medicinal properties, this crimson spice lends a beautiful golden-yellow hue to food. As we were starving for knowledge about saffron, Avneesh Chhabra, director of USMS, Baby Brand Saffron, helps us understand the nutritious and presumably costly spice better.
Harvesting and pricing saffron
Saffron is harvested in October. Around this time, it is fresh from the field and has the highest potency because it has not been stored for long. The price of the spice varies from season to season, and at present, it is Rs. 200 per gram. As environmental factors affect the harvest, world markets and economic policies together determine the price of saffron.
How to determine quality
Saffron, the crimson stigma of the flower, is attached to the yellow style and needs to be separated by hand. During separation, the crimson bit often breaks. Although equal in potency, these broken pieces sell for a lesser price. The longer threads provide better color and flavor to your food, and hence considered better. Finding yellow bits in store-bought saffron indicates a low-quality product.
How to use saffron correctly
Even when people buy saffron after much calculation and planning they don't use it correctly. "People often try to hoard on the little box of saffron throughout the year and use it very scarcely. From the 300 strands in one gram, ideally one should use about 10-15 strands in food each time, but people use one or two strands. It's pointless," says Chhabra.
How to get the best potency and flavor
To get the best flavor and potency, lightly crush and soak a pinch of saffron in lukewarm water or milk, for about 20 minutes. Then add the saffron-soaked liquid to your recipe. Refrain from boiling saffron, or adding it directly to the recipe, before steeping.
How to store saffron correctly
The best way to reserve this prized possession at home is to store it in the fridge. Saffron must be protected from moisture and air. "Storing saffron in a plastic container is a strict no-no if you must store it outside the fridge. In that case choose a glass, stainless steel, or aluminum container. Always store it in the dark," suggests Chhabra.
Is saffron pricey? Debusting the final myth
Mr. Chhabra says saffron is not an expensive spice. "Spices are priced per kilogram, but no one ever needs to buy that much. One gram of saffron has about 300 strands which you can use over 10 times, so each usage costs you Rs. 20. That's cheaper than soft drinks," he explains. "You'll need 60gm a year if you use saffron every single day."