Saffron, the true Red Gold

Saffron is the world’s most legendary spice, and is commonly referred to as “Red Gold”.  The reason being is that Saffron is the most expensive and exquisite spice in the world.  The history of saffron cultivation and usage dates back to over 3000 years ago, and is connected to many cultures. Originating in Iran, saffron was first used for medicinal purposes, and  in fact, to this day, Iran remains the world’s leading producer of saffron, followed by India, Spain and Greece. n Hindi, saffron is known as ‘Kesar’

Why is Saffron so expensive?
Saffron has remained the most expensive spice throughout history, but what makes it so special? Saffron is extremely difficult and time consuming to harvest. The plant only blossoms during a short period between October and November. Once a flower blooms, it must be harvested that same day, as it begins to wilt immediately.  In order to produce one pound of Saffron,  200,000 saffron stigmas have to be hand-picked from 70,000 crocus flowers. An estimate of forty hours of labor is needed to pick 150,000 flowers. Because of its extremely labor intensive harvesting process, the retail value is very high.

What is Saffron used for?
Saffron is available in ground form as well as in threads.  The threads are thin and red or orange-red in color. Mixed with milk, saffron adds a  bright yellow color to dishes. It has a very fine yet fragrant taste that is both sweet and floral. The best part is that a little goes a long way. Adding just a pinch of saffron to a dish can do wonders for its taste, aroma, color, as well as make  it rich and exuberant.  Saffron is commonly found in Mughali cuisine in North India. A few scrumptious Indian dishes to try are saffron rice, saffron chicken curry, saffron pulao, and kabuli chana kofta biryani. Saffron desserts include gulab jamon, ras malai, kesar peda, saffron cardamom kulfi, and saffron rice kheer. Below we have shared our favorite, finger licking, saffron dessert recipe which will leave you dreaming about it for days. 

Saffron Rice Kheer

Ingredients:
• ½ cup basmati rice (soaked in water for 2 hours)
• 8 cups of whole milk
• 1 cup of sugar
• 2 tablespoons chopped pistachios
• 2 tablespoons chopped almonds
• 1 teaspoon cardamom powder
• ½ teaspoon saffron stands
• 2 tablespoons rose water

Directions:
1) In a pan, add milk and bring it to boil.
2) In a cup, mix saffron with 1 tablespoon of milk.
3) Add saffron milk to the boiling milk.
4) Stir well and let it boil for about 10 to 15 minutes.
5) Add rice to the milk and cook on medium heat until the rice has fully cooked. Keep stirring the pan to make sure that the milk does not stick at the bottom.
6) Add sugar and cook on low heat for 8 to 10 minutes.
7) Add cardamom powder, pistachios, almonds, and cook on low heat for 5 minutes.
8) Let the kheer cool down and add rose water and mix well.
9) Garnish with chopped nuts.

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About the author:

Hira Shaikh is a die-hard Chicagoan residing in Texas. She is an avid foodie and travel enthusiast who also enjoys creating new recipes in the kitchen. Besides her corporate job, her sweet tooth and passion for food lure her to hunt down instagrammable restaurants and cafes to try and critique.

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