About Saffron


What is saffron?



Saffron is a prominent edible coloring agent and flavor that is produced from dried stigmas of the flower Crocus Sativus Linnaeus, which belongs to the Iradaceae family. The word “saffron” is derived from the Arabic word za’faran, which translates to, “yellow”.

The saffron crocus is a small bulbous perennial, about 6 to 10 inches high. It produces up to five violet-colored flowers from each bulb.
Each flower holds three, dark-orange-red, funnel-shaped, 1-inches stigma with lacy, pale tips. These stigmas are removed, or stripped, and when dried, they are the saffron prized by chefs all over the world.

These stigmas have to be carefully handpicked from each flower and more than 75000 flowers are needed to produce just one pound of saffron filament.



Chemical composition

The saffron stigma, which is what basically composes the commercial saffron has a distinct, unique color, flavor and aroma.

Saffron’s coloring power is mainly produced by crocin (chemical comp. C44H64024) which is one of the few naturally occurring carotenoids easily soluble in water. This water solubility is one of the reasons for its widely preferred application in food and medicine.

In addition to crocin, saffron contains aglicon Crocetin as a free agent and small amounts of the pigment anthocianin. There are also Oil soluble pigments including alphacarotene, betacarotene and zegxantin.

One of the most Important parameters in evaluating the quality of saffron is its coloring power, which is determined by measuring by spectrophotometer the amount of coloring factors present at 443 nanometers.

The principal element giving saffron its special ”bitter” flavor is the glycosid picrocrocin (c16 H26 07). This bitter tasting substance can be crystalized and produces Glucose and the aldehyde safranal by hydrolysis.

Safranal is a volatile liquid oil which produces a yellow spot in water vapor and is readily soluble in ethanol, methanol and petroleum ether.

Saffron has a strong aroma, which is produced by certain special volatile oils & essences. The main aroma factor in saffron is safranal, which comprises about 60% of the volatile components of saffron. In fresh saffron this substance exists as stable picrocrocin but as a result of heat and passage of time it decomposes releasing the volatile aldehyde saffranal.




Historical accounts of saffron cultivation in Kashmir dates back to 550 AD, i.e. nearly four Centuries earlier to its recorded cultivation in Spain (around 961 AD). Presently major producing countries are India, Spain & Iran.

In India, commercial saffron production is undertaken in J&K State only, where an area of over 20,000 hectare is reported under saffron cultivation with an annual production of about 20,000 kg of dried saffron. It is also being cultivation in some parts of Himachal Pradesh on experiment basis.SAFFRON-Cult





Saffron cultivation can be successfully taken up in sub-temperate climate at an altitude ranging from 1500 m to 2400 m above MSL. Sunny days during flowering stage are favorable for good productivity. Saffron is a rained crop. In general, areas which receive 30 to 40cms of precipitation and remain covered with snow during winter are congenial for commercial Cultivation. Further, spring rains are favorable for corms production, a second spell of rains at the end of summer or at the beginning of Autumn is beneficial for profuse flowering.


Saffron cultivation can ideally be taken up in well drained loamy light soil having neutral to slightly Alkaline soil reaction. Water logging/poor drainage conditions of soil cause rotting of corms and therefore, for successful saffron cultivation, the development of proper drainage system is an inevitable farm management requirement.

Saffron Corms

Saffron is propagated through corms. The plant remains dormant from May to August. The mother corms reproduce annually 2-6 cormlets which are bulbous but slightly compressed, flowers during the following year. The mother corms provide food to the new developing corms and in doing so wither, shrink and finally die. Thus new corms keep developing each year to replace older ones.

Land Preparation & Planting
The field is ploughed 4 to 5 times to a depth of 30 to 35 cm in the months of March-April to bring the soil into fine tilt. This is followed by a ploughing and leveling in the month of May.
It is recommended to incorporate 15 to 30 tones’ of Farm Yard Manure (FYM) during land Preparation. The planting of corms is then taken up in furrows of 8 to 10 cm deep following escapement of 8-10 cm corms to corms and 15 -20 cm row to row. The field is then laid out into 2.5 M square beds with a specific provision of 30 cm wide and 15 cm deep drainage channels around each bed.

Seed Selection

The quality of seed material (corms) has marked influence on flower production. Therefore, the Corms selected for planting should be healthy and free from fungal diseases having a diameter of 3 cm or more. In general, smaller size corms tend to produce only vegetative growth.

Inter-cultural Operation
The fields planted with saffron seed are not disturbed till the following June. In this month, the First hoeing with short handled tongroo(small spade) is done. This hoeing operation Provides aeration to the soil and is very important for proper development of corms. Second Hoeing is done in the first week of September, a month earlier to flowering of saffron. Soil is also raised from the channels to the beds / strips which are properly levelled.

During the time of second hoeing, light dressing of FYM @2 tonnes per hectare are recommended for the subsequent years to promote good growth of flowering shoots. After the flowering season, third and final light hoeing is given and manure is mixed with the help of iron rakes. This schedule is followed every year.

It is recommended to use Nitorgen (N), Phosphorus (P2 O5) and Potash (K2O) as Fertilizers in two doses during 2nd & 3rd hoeing.



It’s the saffron season in Kashmir
It’s late October. It is that time of the year again, when the Pampore plateau, a few Kilometers’ southeast of Srinagar, presents a breathtaking sight. The fields are full of small purple-colored flowers that produce the most expensive and exotic Spice in the world, saffron better known as Kesar in India.
There is joy in the air, as hundreds of men, women and children pluck the Flowers and put them in their wicker baskets. They are mostly cultivators and their families.
They have to work fast the flowers have to be picked hours after they reach Full bloom. Once they wilt, they are useless.
Plucking the flowers requires extreme care, but picking what is inside them requires more dexterity. Every flower must be held in one hand. The other turns back the purple petal and lift from each flower the red stigmas. Every flowers has three red stigmas (the female part), two stamens (the male part), and a long white stem connecting all of these to the main flower.
The stigmas are carefully dried in the sun to remove excess water. Impurities are removed by winnowing and passing it through sieves. It is then graded for different qualities and packed in moisture-proof containers.
The amount of hard work that is required can be gauged from the fact that it is only after stripping about 150,000 flowers that a kilogram of saffron is obtained.
The moonlit nights of November in this region have melted many a hearts in this valley of flowers.



Saffron is grown on a commercial scale primarily in India, Spain and Iran.

Spanish Saffron
The Spanish saffron always has a portion of yellow style attached to the stigma (Red Filament).

Iranian Saffron
Iranian saffron has a very thin and small stigma. In one variety these stigmas are joined and attached to a short style and is known as Pushali. In the other variety the stigmas are attached to the full-length style and tied in the form of a bunch of several hundred stigmas with their tong styles. This is known as Iranian Guchhi. The effective yield of stigmas from these bunches is just about 50% (Since the stigmas of Iranian Saffron are very short).

The Indian (Kashmiri) saffron has been acknowledged to be the finest in the world. It always has a very long thick stigma with a bright red colour and strong flavour and intense aroma.

The ancient fields near Pampore are the natural cultivatation grounds for this legendry crop, where no special efforts have been input interms of soil fertilizers, environmental aids or R. N. D. Programs. The nature has bestowed upon these fields a well drained light textured loamy soil and the climate is just apt for this exotic plant to bloom in splendour.

The Kashmiri saffron is of two basic varieties.

1). LACHHA: - In the variety the 3-stigmas are attached to the style very much in the same way as in Iran except that the effective yield of stigmas in this variety is about 75%. (The long and thick stigmas account for the excess yield.)
2). MONGRA: – This Variety has only thick, long stigmas (Red Filaments) and no other part of saffron flower and is obtained by separating stigmas from the yellow styles. It is the purest form of saffron and commands premium price all over the world.



Saffron is used as a spice, a condiment, an aphrodisiac and coloring agent.

Saffron and Medicine
As a therapeutic plant, saffron is considered excellent for stomach ailment and is an antispasmodic, helps digestion and increases appetite. It is also considered that in small quantities it regulates women’s menstruation and helps conception.

In India, it is used as a herb in Ayurvedic medicines which heal a variety of diseases ranging from arthritis to Impotence and infertility. It is used for curing Asthma & cough and common cold. It is used in treating alcoholism and a few skin diseases. It is used for treatment of enlarged liver and infection of urinary bladders and kidneys (claim the Ayurvedic practitioners)

As a spice it is used in cooking both as a coloring and flavoring agent.

It is used to improve flavor while giving distinct aroma and a beautiful golden color.
There is a great list of foods where saffron is added including cheese products such as cottage cheese and parmesan soups, various spirits, pasta and rice and many more.
It is an essential commodity in high milk/cream based confectionaries. It is used in various dairy products like ice-creams flavored milk, shrikkhand etc.
In India to serve saffron based delicacies during marriages and other celebrations is a norm.
Sweets laced with saffron are distributed during religious festivities.

Kashmiri Saffron Tea (Kahwa)
It is regarded as a delightful refreshing brew. All you have to do is, boil some water and add a few filaments of saffron along with some Kashmiri tea till half the water evaporates and the tea draws its strength. Add sugar to taste and serve it with freshly crushed almonds and powdered cardamom.

Saffron Milk (A Tonic For Health)
Soak about 1mg of saffron in 3-4 teaspoonful of Luke warm water and leave it for about half an hour till a concentrate of saffron is founded. Add this concentrate to a glass of 200 ml milk. Add sugar to taste along with some crushed almonds & pistachio. Serve it chilled during summer.

Sherbat is even cooler and simpler, an infusion of saffron stirred into sugar syrup and chilled out with ice. It is grandmother’s recipe to beat the scorching heat.

There are two basic ways to use saffron.

1. If you have ample time on hand, than to get the maximum out of the saffron filaments, soak a few filaments in a cup of water overnight. This way you will be able to extract the maximum color and flavor from the saffron filaments and at the same time the filaments will expand to their original size, so that while garnishing the dish with it, you would be able to show its maximum size. Add this colored saffron concentrate to the dish directly.

2. In case you are running short of time, don’t panic; just crumble a few threads in a few tsp of water till a paste is formed Add this directly to the dish. In this case you would be able to get the desired result in terms of color and flavor, but you wouldn’t be able to display the full length of the filament.

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