The most costly spice in the world is saffron, according to legend: the gold we own
The most costly spice in the world is saffron, according to legend: the gold we own

Saffron is said to have been introduced to Kashmir by the Persian emperors about 500 B.C. After capturing control of the territory, the conquerors sowed saffron corms into the ground. Local legends, however, contradict this theory and claim that Zafran arrived in Kashmir between the 11th and 12th centuries A.D. through two Sufi saints named Khawaja Masood Wali (RA) and Sheikh Sharief-u-Din Wali (RA), who, after becoming ill, sought a cure from a tribal chieftain. Later, they gave the chieftain a Zafran bulb as payment for his hospitality. And the origin of Zafran is linked to this endearing tale, which is warmly acknowledged across Kashmir. The saffron community annually presents Zafran with these two Sufi mystics’ shrines in the saffron town of Pampore as a token of gratitude.

Zafran, a pricey plant with significant therapeutic significance, is an essential component of Kashmir’s rich cultural legacy. It is without a doubt a harvest that is valuable beyond measure. Because of this, it is also known as “red gold.” Only 1 kg of pure Zafran, which sells for roughly Rs. 1-2 lakh per kilogramme, is said to be produced from about 150,000 fresh blooms. It solely has the red stigmas, which are responsible for the herb’s fabled favour, scent, and colour (each blossom produces three stigmas). The red stigmas and yellow styles are combined to create the lower-quality, less expensive saffron, which is nonetheless suitable for use.


Zafran, which is grown in the zafr’an-zaar fields, starts in early July and ends with the flowering period in late October or early November. In the month of October, residents of Pampore (the geographic centre of Zafran), Khrew, and Shar villages transform the fields into enchanted places.

On the third day of blossoming, the delicate Zafran blooms are often harvested. They open their petals only in the morning. While one group gathers the flowers, another removes the priceless stigmas from the blooms, which are then wrapped in little bunches according to grade and sun-dried. These stigmas’ size decreases to a fifth of their original size as they dry, and their colour also intensifies. After trimming off the dried stigmas’ bases, just the purest red Kashmiri traditional Zafran remains, arranged in tidy bouquets. It is said to be completely enchanting to see the Zafran in full bloom on a moonlight night.

One of the most sought-after spices in the world is Kashmiri Zafran (Kesar). You should taste the saffron you are using to see whether it is real. It should always smell like fragrant hay and never be sweet. Zafran is a valued ingredient that has long been served to newlyweds and grooms in Kashmir as a welcome treat on their first visit. Additionally, it is used in Wazwan, Kashmir’s extravagant traditional feast.

The spice is also a culinary superstar used by Kashmiris in milk to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan as well as in stews, broths, and with fruit sherbets. The Zafran Kahwa, a Kashmiri green tea with saffron added, continues to be everyone’s favourite.

Zafran is cultivated in Kashmir at an elevation of more than 1600 metres, and more than 20,000 households are involved in the associated commerce, mostly in Pampore and its neighbouring villages. Zafran is deeply ingrained in the local economy. Growing zafran in humus-rich, wet soil offers various health advantages. Its volatile oil, safranal, which is also used as an anticonvulsant and an antidepressant, has been shown to have an impact on cancer cells. The carotenoid alfa-crocin also has a comparable effect. As well as being high in vitamin A and C, folic acid, niacin, and riboflavin, it is also packed with minerals including potassium, manganese, iron, calcium, selenium, copper, zinc, and magnesium.

Kashmiri Zafran has preserved a mystical air about it for many decades as a result of its distinct flavour and the breathtaking beauty of the surroundings. However, it has recently encountered several difficulties. Climate change and the introduction of foreign grades that are of lower quality and have been adulterated have both reduced its output.

Come, let’s protect this history and the priceless harvest of holy ancestry for our future generations.

Manzoor Akash is a frequent contributor and a teacher.



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