Saffron – even the name conjures up images of exotic, luxury, exquisite fragrance, rarity, and culinary adventures. And here is the art of using saffron. In the saffron expert’s and cooks’ lexicon, this process is called blooming.
A Spice Beyond Words
Saffron has been used for thousands of years in medicine, perfume manufacturing and in cooking.
Officially named crocus sativus, there is no absolute certainty where saffron was first cultivated, but it is believed to be either in Greece or Iran.
Currently, saffron is grown in a belt that encompasses a region in Spain, in the west, to Kashmir in India, in the east. Iran is the largest producer and exporter of saffron.
Why So Expensive?
One reason saffron is expensive because each plant has only three threads, or stigmas, and it grows for just a week every year. About 150,000 plants, or about 450,000 stigmas, are needed to produce a kilo of saffron and this work is done manually. Hence the high price good quality saffron fetches.
Saffron is used not just in cooking, particularly in flavoring rice, but also in medicine. It is said to contain antioxidants and therefore conducive to improve mood and mental health and even improve memory power. It is also supposed to contain anti-inflammatory properties.
To be honest, I had rarely used saffron until recently. For some reason, I had resorted to using turmeric as a substitute. And then once I had bought a small box of saffron but never knew how to use it correctly, so I had gone back to turmeric.
But during a trip to Dubai, I visited the Grand Souk – which means grand market or bazaar – and found a store specializing in saffron. The salesperson gave me tips on how to extract the flavors from the saffron threads. This is actually called blooming.
The Art of Using Saffron – Saffron Blooming
- Take a pinch of the threads and put them in a small cup with a firm holder. Here, I bought a small mortar and pestle.
- Add some lukewarm water. Some cooks say cold water is better, but the salesperson told me to add lukewarm water so that is what I have been doing.
- Let it rest for a few minutes for the threads to bloom.
- Crush with the pestle.
- Strain and use the water, now red and flavourful.
Here is a video of how I bloomed some saffron.