Say it with saffron. A simple dish can be turned into something very desirable and mouth watering, courtesy saffron. Take your pick: Plain rice or saffron rice? Rasmalai or kesari rasmali? Just imagine plain milk or kesari milk? Besides, remember that saffron is considered so exclusive it is part of the offerings to gods in many religions. Cleopatra wrote a whole book on saffron for its cosmetic and aphrodisiac properties. In ancient Greece, saffron was used as a spice for its aroma, as a dye and also for medicinal purposes. Azafran is Spanish for saffron. Croci is the Greek name for saffron, in Farsi or Persian, it is Za'fran, Za'faran (Zargol), Greeks call it Krokos, Safrani, Zafora and in Hindi, it is Kesar.Saffron is without a doubt the most expensive spice in the world. Its high cost is due to the work that goes into producing a small amount of the spice. Each saffron flower produces three red stigma or strands. The saffron flower has to be picked before or at the break of dawn, so that the saffron strands are not overexposed to the sun's light. Once the flower is picked, the three red strands must be plucked from each flower. Then dried for storage. All by hand. To produce a gram of the spice, 150 to 200 flowers must be picked.
The colour of the saffron is a strong indication of the saffron's flavour. Colour is due to the degradation or the breakdown of carotenoids, such as crocin and crocetin. Saffron's aroma is determined by the release of safranal.
Safranal is a volatile liquid oil, which is yellow in colour and comprises up to 70 per cent of the volatile components of saffron.Saffron features largely in Arab cuisine. It is grown mainly in Iran. Morocco and Turkey are also producers of saffron. Back home, saffron is produced mainly in Kashmir.
Cooking with saffron requires a little preparation. When in doubt follow the recipe. Though most will suggest that the saffron strands should be allowed to be dipped in water for a minimum of 20 minutes or even up to 12 hours in some cases. Saffron is also frequently added directly to the meal, while cooking, leaving out the soaking process.
Soaking saffron ensures the dried product will sufficiently release all its flavour and aroma into the dish.
Saffron strands will continue to release their flavour and colour for up to 24 hours after the soaking or cooking process starts. Some believe that slightly less saffron is needed when it is soaked for an extended period. Care must be taken not to add too much saffron as it will turn from a pleasant flavour to a bitter one.