Why Kashmir Saffron should be considered the new gold: the Arabic word zafaran, which means yellow, is where the term “saffron” originated. Botanically speaking, commercially grown saffron is known as Crocus sativus, also the name of the flower; wild saffron is known as Crocus cartwrightianus. Also known as “Red Gold,” saffron is one of the priciest spices on the planet. Its history goes back more than three millennia.
According to legend, Cleopatra used saffron for cosmetic purposes, Egyptian doctors used it to treat gastrointestinal disorders, and the Romans used it as a deodorant. The two main places where saffron crocus has been grown are Iran and Kashmir. Saffron is a highly sought-after spice and labor-intensive crop, often valued higher than gold!
The stigmas of the purple flowers of the Crocus sativus plant are used to make this spice. Three stigmas from each bloom are individually chosen, dried, and used to manufacture the saffron sauce. A few grams of saffron are made from thousands of blossoms. Because crocetin, a kind of acid, and crocin are present, the stigmas are usually orange-red. When purchasing saffron, it’s critical to remember that the finest varieties have a rich red color, a scent reminiscent of honey, and a little musky flavor.
In the Pulwama area of Jammu and Kashmir, the people of Pampore, often called the saffron town of Kashmir, are harvesting the delicate blooms to stuff into wicker baskets since it is late October. Renowned for its flavor and color, Kashmiri saffron (Crocus sativus Kashmirianus) is picked just once a year, from late October to mid-November. More than 90% of the 5,707 hectares of land used for saffron farming in Kashmir are located in the Pampore tehsil of the Pulwama district in South Kashmir, with the remaining portion being in the Budgam and Srinagar districts of central Kashmir. Saffron, well-known for its unique scent, is a potent flavoring and coloring ingredient.
Kashmiri saffron is said to be the best type on the market because of its lengthy and intense red color. The distinct scent and distinctive stigmas of a premium and pure variety of saffron can help you identify it. Top-grade raw and organic natural saffron from Kashmir (Kesar). Each flower’s three constituent parts—petals, golden strands, and red threads—are placed according to significance. The red threads are used to extract pure saffron. By sifting and scanning more than 1,50,000 blossoms, one can find a kilo of the red spice. The threads are then dried over a charcoal fire. Saffron is sometimes called the “crop of gold” and is one of the most costly spices on the planet.
After years of losses, Kashmiri saffron growers may now celebrate the production of 15.04 metric tons (MTs) of the valuable spice in 2021. Before this, the maximum yield of 15 MTs was reported in 1996, marking the most excellent production. In the past, the district of Pulwama’s rural regions saw extensive saffron cultivation. However, producers switched to other horticulture crops due to various limitations in saffron production. As a result, the saffron crop is currently limited to Pampore and its surrounding areas. Saffron production has decreased by 68 percent over the last 20 years, and producers are heartbroken by this low output.
Over the last ten years, farmers have found the poor yield discouraging, and many have already switched to other crops with higher yields, such as apples and walnuts. The area used for saffron farming decreased quickly, from 5,707 hectares in 1996 to 3,875 hectares in 2010–11. Either by hand or by machine, planting takes place in July, August, and September. Harvesting occurs between the end of October and mid-November, or about eight weeks following planting. Because saffron crocuses revere the light, they like to be planted in arid, open fields instead of areas with shadows.
The yellow, red, and purple petals that bloom next to enormous chinars draw travelers worldwide to the Pampore meadows, where harvest season is celebrated like a local village fair. Saffron growers go to the shrine of Hazrat Sheikh Sharif-ud-din in Namblabal Pampore on the first day of the harvest to present some saffron. Habba Khatoon, a poet from the 16th century, referenced these aromatic red threads in his poetry and ballads. Khatoon was from Pampore and was referred to as the Nightingale of Kashmir.
In India, this spice goes by several names: kungumapoo in Tamil, kesar in Hindi, kong posh in Kashmiri, and zafran in Urdu. Saffron has several applications. There is kahwa, which is Kashmiri green tea infused with saffron. It’s a popular beverage that will instantly win you over. This elixir, made with spices like cardamom and cinnamon, is brewed gently in a copper samovar. After that, it’s served with some honey and, frequently, an almond garnish. It plays a significant role in Wazwan, the opulent Kashmiri dinner buffet.
In addition to being used in cooking, saffron has several health benefits. The oil used to make safranal has anticonvulsant and depressive properties, in addition to slowing the development of cancer cells. Similar results are also obtained with the carotenoid alfa-crocin. It also contains many minerals, including magnesium, copper, zinc, manganese, iron, calcium, selenium, and potassium. It also has significant riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, and vitamins A and C.
The Jammu and Kashmir government hosts a three-day yearly Saffron Festival with cultural events. It allows visitors to explore saffron fields and purchase the spice straight from growers. It starts the last week of October. The Geographic Indications Registry assigned Kashmiri saffron a geographical indicator tag. The Directorate of Agriculture, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, requested, with the help of the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agriculture Sciences and Technology, Kashmir, and the Saffron Research Station, Dussu (Pampore), to make it illegal for someone outside the valley to produce and market a similar good under the name “Kashmiri saffron.”
According to sources, Iran is currently the world’s top producer of saffron. Every year, 300 tons of saffron are grown there. Since 2007, the cost of Kashmiri saffron has dropped by half due to the entry of Iranian saffron. Today, 80–90% of the saffron produced worldwide comes from Iran. Due to Iran’s introduction of tainted saffron onto the market, Kashmiri saffron suffered. Despite all the challenges and hardships, thousands of people in Kashmir are still employed in the saffron industry. The government is implementing several initiatives to revive the industry and bring it back to its previous splendor. To recover the valley’s production of the most expensive spice in the world, the federal government launched the National Saffron Mission in 2010.