The reason saffron is super-expensive, despite being extensively cultivated not just in India but in the Middle East and Europe too, is because for one, it has to be harvested by hand — a painstaking task that is both time-consuming and labour-intensive. Second, only a small part of the crocus (the saffron flower) is used; it is estimated that some 75,000 flowers are needed to make half a kilogramme of the spice!
This also explains why it gets adulterated so much. In powder form, turmeric is the most common additive used, while to fake the strands of saffron, unscrupulous elements use beetroot, pomegranate fibres or even the saffron flower’s tasteless and odourless stamens — the part that is not used. While saffron is, well, saffron in colour, the flower itself is purple — Crocus sativus. What we use for the distinctive colour, the aroma and the flavouring is the stigma of the flower.
Saffron is used equally in savoury dishes, mostly rice preparations — such as biryani, paella and risotto — and also the French bouillabaisse, as well as delectable sweet dishes. The precious spice also forms the bouquet of ingredients in the Kashmiri kahwa, along with spices like cardamom, cinnamon and ginger. Following are the eight benefits:
Saffron is termed the “sunshine spice”, and not just because of its golden colour. It is known to brighten the mood, although it is not advisable to take it as a medicine without checking with your doctor.
Oddly enough, saffron has been shown to reduce appetite and thus help in weight loss. Perhaps this is because of its mood-uplifting properties – when you feel good, you tend to snack less.
Consuming and even smelling saffron can help treat some PMS symptoms, such as irritability, headaches, cravings, pain and anxiety.
Blood cholesterol and sugar:
Saffron has also shown promise in reducing blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels — again, more tests are needed for this. And obviously, it won’t work for those who like saffron in kheer, thandai and keshar bhaath!
Probably following on from its antioxidant effects, saffron has been shown to help in improving memory, and could thus be a valuable addition to the arsenal of weapons fighting Alzheimer’s disease and other symptoms of dementia.
Saffron is known as a “heaty” spice, ranking up there with garlic in the league of libido-enhancers. Studies conducted in the West have shown that saffron can have aphrodisiac properties that could benefit both men and women.
Test-tube studies have shown that saffron compounds can selectively kill colon cancer cells or suppress their growth, while leaving healthy cells unharmed. This might even work with other kinds of cancer cells, but more studies are needed in this direction.
Saffron contains several plant compounds which act as antioxidants — molecules that protect your cells against free radicals and oxidation.