First thoughts on hearing saffron are usually expensive, exotic. On learning about the process of cultivating this spice, both the price and exoticness kind of make sense! ☺. Saffron is grown mostly in the Mediterranean climate and given the meticulous and laborious process of growing it, each strand does seem like worth its weight in gold.
Pure or authentic saffron will give the desired result in a few strands too. A little ahead we will discuss a simple method to ascertain its purity. Unlike many spices commonly used in Indian cuisine, saffron does not have a very pungent flavour or aroma. Just like the strands, the flavour is delicate – can be discerned but does not overpower the taste buds. The aroma is sweet, a lot more apparent and makes its presence felt as the dish arrives at the table. Simply inviting!
But it is the hue or colour that saffron adds to the food which is most enchanting; which brings us to the point where we discuss checking the quality of saffron. Add a few strands in water and if it turns goldish yellow and the saffron strand does not lose its colour (refer image at the top to see the colour) then the saffron is of superior quality. Additionally like it is true for many spices, the aroma of real saffron would be quite strong, definitely stronger than the fake one.
In Indian cooking, Saffron is used mainly in desserts like Kheer, semolina (Rawa) halwa, among other food items. Delicate spices require equally deft handling too; which basically means don’t go overboard, with a good quality saffron you don’t need to either since little is good enough. A few strands depending on the quantity cooked very effectively does the trick – colour, fragrance and flavour all three checked. Another common flaw in the usage of saffron is to do with the approach towards the spice; since it comes with the distinguished honour of being both wondrous and expensive, it is at times used irrespective of whether it will go well with the composition of the dish. For example, it works very well in semolina halwa but not really in badam (almond) halwa.
“To really bring out the brilliance of certain special ingredients, use them selectively and in the right proportion. Saffron definitely merits such selective usage; does perfect justice to its exoticness.”
In our eBook Homemade Delicacies Desserts, we have shared the recipe of Sweet rice infused with saffron (Image above). In this recipe it works wonderfully, the white rice taking on the beautiful golden hue and the sugar syrup in the recipe is filled with a superb confluence of saffron and green cardamom. In fact, saffron works very well in any Chashni (sugar syrup based) dishes. Be it Maalpuda or Gujia (both recipes available in Homemade Delicacies Desserts).
Like most spices, saffron has certain health benefits too. To sum up, this spice is a must have in the kitchen;
Few ingredients like saffron that captivate you right from the look, flavour, aroma and hue…..and it would easily top the list of such ingredients!