India, as a land of spices, has a rich history and culture tied to each of its spices. From western traders colonising India for its spices to the world taking note of Indian cuisine today – it’s all about the condiment. But there’s one spice that continues to be one of the world’s most prized and expensive spices, and that’s the Kashmiri saffron.
Reportedly, there have been times in the past when saffron was more expensive than gold. This exquisite spice was used by ancient Greeks and Romans as a perfume. Today, it is an essential part of various cuisines and some of the most expensive dishes in India and across the world. But what makes Kashmiri saffron so expensive? We find out in this edition of ‘Why is it expensive’.
Why is Kashmiri saffron so expensive?
Kashmir is known for producing the most expensive spice in the world – saffron. While other countries like Iran, Spain and Greece also produce saffron, Kashmiri saffron is considered the best in the world. It is also GI-tagged, further adding to its value. If several reports are to be believed, a kilogram of this spice can cost upto INR 3 lakhs. But why? It’s the art of manual cultivation.
Cultivating saffron manually is a strenuous task and that’s what makes it so expensive.
On the snow-capped mountains of Pampore, Kashmir, there lies a thick cover of purple crocus flowers from where saffron is harvested. Known as the ‘Saffron capital of India’, Pampore is situated about 14 kms away from Srinagar. The region is inhabited by more than 20,000 families, all of whom cultivate the Kashmiri saffron.
The first step of saffron cultivation is picking and collecting these delicate flowers. Each of these flowers is then divided in three parts – the petals, the yellow strands and the red strands. These red strands are called stigmas of the flower. It is these stigmas from which saffron is derived. There are just about three or four stigmas in each flower. It takes sifting through more than 1,50,000 flowers to collect just one kilogram of saffron. All of this is done by hand.
These red strands are then dried over a charcoal fire and made ready for packaging.
Moreover, these purple flowers bloom for only six weeks a year, from late September to early December. There’s also a specific time in a day when they need to be harvested. It has to be early morning, otherwise the sunlight tends to break the chemical structure of the saffron.
What makes Kashmiri saffron so superior?
The quality of saffron is determined by its colour, taste and medicinal value. This comes from crocin, a carotenoid pigment. According to India International Kashmir Saffron Trading Centre, Kashmiri saffron is superior because of its high concentration of crocin of 8.72%, as compared to the Iranian saffron which has 6.82% crocin content. Thus, Kashmiri saffron is richer in its flavour and has a crimson hue.
Even though Iran is currently the largest producer of saffron, the supremacy of the Kashmiri variety continues to live on.
All Images: Courtesy Shutterstock
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: The best Kashmiri saffron you can get your hands on is in Kashmir itself. The most authentic of all. Treat yourself to this magnificent spice the next time you visit Kashmir.
Answer: Real saffron is quite costly. A kilo of Kashmiri saffron can reportedly cost up to INR 3 lakhs.
Answer: Kashmiri saffron is considered to be one of the most expensive spice in the world.