Kashmir is not only the world leader when it comes to picturesque sceneries and natural wonders; it is also known to produce world’s best saffron.
Long, flat silky thread, deep red color, powerful aroma and wonderful flavoring capability; make Kashmiri saffron the finest and most expensive of spices. Saffron is harvested at the end of autumn in the months of October – November. Kashmiri saffron threads are flat and thin and slightly wider at the tip of the thread. Smooth and silky to touch, Kashmiri saffron is more expensive than its Iranian counterpart.
There are three grades of saffron available in Kashmir: saffron lachha, saffron mongra and saffron zarda. It is popularly said that the soils of Pampore have a certain magical element which helps the flowers to bloom. Geographically, the ideal environment for cultivation of saffron is cool, dry climate and rich soil with excellent drainage and organic content which is abundantly present in the alluvial soil of Kashmir.
A little background on saffron: It is a spice obtained from the flowers of Crocus sativus popularly termed as saffron crocus. It is the dried stigma of the flower together with the style which is used as the saffron. Native to Greece or Southwest Asia, saffron is the most costly spice by weight and used in different cuisines as a seasoning and coloring agent. If you are wondering why saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, then it is because each flower’s stigmas have to be collected by hand and there are only a few per flower; and it takes approximately 150 flowers to yield just 1000 mg of dry saffron threads.
It would be apt to mention traditional and medicinal uses of this golden herb. It is mainly used in the treatment of neurogenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and depression. It is also reported to be effective against anxiety disorders, cancer, respiratory diseases, hypertension, diabetic neuropathy. In folklore medicine, saffron flavored milk is also considered effective in wound healing.
Ancient Persian texts reveal that saffron was brought to Kashmir by the Persian rulers around 5000 BC. When Persian rulers conquered Kashmir, they transplanted the Persian saffron crocus corns to the Kashmiri soil in Pampore. Phoenicians marketed this Kashmiri saffron as a dye and a treatment for melancholy. Chinese herbalist Wan Zhen has also mentioned saffron, ‘the habitat of saffron is in Kashmir, where people grow it principally to offer it to Buddha.’
As per a popular legend two Sufi ascetics, Khwaja Masood Wali and Sheikh Sharif-u-Din Wali were in India during 11th and 12th century and fell ill. They received medical treatment from a local tribal chieftain and gave a saffron crocus bulb in return to him. Till date, these Sufi saints have their golden domed shrine and tomb dedicated to them and prayers are offered to them in late autumn during harvesting season.
While driving from Srinagar to Anantnag in late autumn travelers come across an enchanting and invigorating scene in Pampore. The saffron fields are abuzz with activity where tens of thousands of villagers including women, children and elderly are frantically picking at the flowers and collect them in wicker baskets on their backs. It’s an amazing sight to behold. No part of the flower is wasted; petals eaten as vegetable, stems form the food for animals and the red stigmas form the finest of spices-pure Kashmiri saffron.
Kashmiri lifestyle is incomplete without the presence of saffron. Saffron is an integral part of Kashmiri cuisine, its rich aroma marks all celebrations in Kashmir, the traditional Kashmiri saffron Kehwa is an integral part of day to day life; in fact no festivity is considered complete without saffron.
Where to buy: A number of saffron shops near the saffron fields in Pampore are selling 100% pure Kashmiri saffron harvested from the current crop each year and packaged in 50 mg, 1 gm., 2 gm., 5 gm. and 25 gm. packages. By the color and quality of thread as mentioned above you can ensure that you are buying the pure variety. The saffron is variously priced depending on the quality from 150/- INR per gm. to 250/- INR per gram.