Saffron, often called as ‘Kesar’ in Hindi, is a popular spice and an expensive one too. Its taste makes it great for usage in food, as refreshment and even for making beverages. Saffron’s unique colour, flavor, and other properties give it culinary and medicinal characteristics that make it renowned all over the world.
It belongs to the Iridaceae family and is a native of the South Europe regions. These regions originally cultivated and used saffron on a daily basis. The other regional names of saffron include ‘Kumkum Puvvu‘ in Telugu, ‘Kumkuma poo‘ in Tamil, ‘Kunkumapoov‘ in Malayalam, ‘Kesari‘ in Kannada, ‘Kesar‘ in Punjabi, ‘Keshar‘ in Marathi, and ‘Jaffran‘ in Bengali.
Health Benefits Of Saffron
Saffron is mostly known for its inclusion in food items. But it has very significant nutrients and chemical compounds which are beneficial in providing medicinal benefits. Let us look at a few of the saffron uses below:
1. Disease Prevention
One of the main saffron benefits, when used in cooking food, is that it contains many plant-derived chemical components which are known to prevent diseases. They are also known to promote the overall well-being of the body.
2. Volatile Oils
The plant part from which saffron is obtained contains essential but volatile oils which when added to food, imparts its unique flavour and benefits of saffron as a spice. Some of these oils are cineole, pinene, borneol, geraniol, etc.
3. Active Components
Apart from the volatile oils, there are also non-volatile active components like carotenoid compound that are antioxidants beneficial to the body. These prevent free radical reactions which produce harmful by-compounds and diseases. Some of the carotenoids like zeaxanthin, lycopene, alpha and beta-carotene are widely appreciated. This is also one of the main uses of saffron.
4. Therapeutic Applications
In many religions, saffron is not just considered a spice. It is used in various types of therapies like body healing, detoxification and also in the spas.
The active components in the saffron make our body lose its depressing characteristics making it a dietary necessity sometimes.
6. Digestive Properties
Saffron is also a digestive and an anticonvulsant.
7. Cell Formation And Repair
Potassium, found in saffron, is a necessary source that favours cell formation and repair.
8. Heart Diseases And Blood Pressure
Potassium also helps maintains the blood pressure and keeps heart diseases at bay.
9. Blood Cell Production
Iron is a very useful component in the body as the blood requires it to form haemoglobin and it is a co-factor in the red blood cell production too.
10. Optimum Health
The overall mineral content including calcium, vitamins, proteins, etc. present in saffron ensure the maintenance of optimum health.
11. Weight Loss And Diet Control
It’s time to usher in the new diet plan that actually works, and it’s as simple as incorporating saffron oil into your food. Proven results show that saffron oil controls the appetite and is working all over the world to help people control obesity and get back into shape. Studies show that saffron intake effectively enhances the serotonin levels in our body.
High serotonin levels suppress the appetite or the impulse to eat and heightens the mood at the same time whereas low levels of serotonin invariably have an opposite and adverse effect leading to overeating. Dr.Oz, a world famous nutritionist and a regular on the Oprah Winfrey Show, vouches for and promotes saffron extracts as a healthy and viable tool to combat obesity which has taken on frightening proportions as a serious health hazard that just can’t be ignored.
12. Respiratory Health
Saffron is commonly used to treat asthma and other respiratory ailments such as cough, whooping cough, and to loosen phlegm (as an expectorant).
13. Mental Health
Saffron extract is known to help treat depression, reduce stress, and to be a mood enhancer. It is also widely used as an aphrodisiac. It is widely used to combat Alzheimer’s disease and used in the fight against the growing menace of insomnia, common to today’s highly stressed lifestyle habits.
14. Sexual Health
Women use saffron for menstrual cramps and premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and men use it to promote fertility and to deal with premature ejaculation. Overall, saffron has done much to help treat complex sexual health ailments.
15. Combating Diabetes
Saffron has proven to be a handy tool combating the menace of diabetes and it is for this mean feat that patients and doctors all over the world swear by it.
Saffron Benefits For Skin
Apart from imparting its exotic flavor and aroma to several recipes, saffron possesses beauty benefits as well. It has natural skin lightening qualities. Saffron can be beneficial for your skin in the following ways:
16. Saffron For Radiant Skin
To get radiant and smooth skin, prepare the following face pack
- Mix 1 teaspoon of sandalwood powder, 2 to 3 strands of saffron, and 2 spoons of milk.
- Wash your face and wipe with a cloth before applying this face mask
- Apply it while your face is still wet.
- Massage your skin thoroughly in a circular motion.
- Allow it to dry for 20 minutes and rinse off.
- This mask should be applied once a week for maximum results.
17. Saffron For Fairer Skin
To get naturally fair skin
- Soak a few strands of saffron in milk for 2 hours.
- Smear this milk all over your face and neck.
- Wash off after few minutes.
- Using this regularly will make your skin naturally fair.
- Here’s another mix that you can prepare to get naturally fair skin:
- Soak sunflower seeds (chironji) and saffron in milk and keep them overnight.
- Grind this mixture in the morning.
- Apply it on your face to get fair and glowing skin.
Adding a few strands of saffron to your glass of milk can also give you a glowing complexion. Expectant mothers are often given milk and saffron so that the fetus in the womb gets a fair and glowing complexion. There is, however, no medical theory behind this.
Saffron strands can be sprinkled in your warm bath water. Let it soak in the water for 20 minutes. Use this water for your bath. This will lighten your complexion naturally.
18. Treatment Of Acne And Blemishes
The antifungal content of saffron makes it effective for the treatment of acne, blemishes, and blackheads.
- Mix 5-6 basil leaves with 10-12 strands of saffron to make a fine paste.
- Apply this on your face
- Wash off with cold water after 10 to 15 minutes.
- This will help to remove acne and pimples.
Basil leaves can clean the bacteria that cause acne and pimples. Apply saffron soaked milk on your face twice a day to help in clearing blemishes.
19. Treatment Of Dull Skin
- Add 2-3 strands of saffron to one teaspoon of water and keep overnight.
- By next morning the color of the water will turn yellow.
- Add one teaspoon milk, 2-3 drops of olive or coconut oil and a pinch of sugar to this saffron water.
- Dipping a piece of bread in this mixture, apply it all over your face.
- Allow it to dry for 15 minutes and wash off.
- This mask will freshen up dull skin as well as help in erasing dark circles under the eyes.
- It also exfoliates your skin by helping blood circulation, thus making your skin smooth and glowing.
20. Saffron For Luminous Complexion
- Add a few strands of saffron to honey.
- Massage your face with this face pack.
- This will stimulate blood circulation by providing oxygen to your skin.
- Using this face pack regularly will give you a glowing complexion.
21. Saffron As A Toner
Saffron can help in toning up your skin. All you need to do is soak saffron strands in rose water and apply it on your skin after scrubbing.
22. Improves Face Texture
- Boil ½ cup of water for 10 minutes
- Add 4 to 5 strands of saffron and 4 tablespoons of milk powder to this water.
- Apply it on your face for 10 to 15 minutes and then wash with cold water.
This face pack will help to improve the texture of your facial skin.
23. Treatment Of Dry Skin
If you have dull and dry skin, you can prepare a mask with lemon and saffron. Lemon cleans your skin from deep within while saffron provides luminosity to it. All you need to do is:
- Mix a few drops of lemon juice with a spoonful of saffron powder.
- If you have very dry skin, you can add a few drops of milk.
- Make it into a smooth dough and spread all over your face.
- Leave for 20 minutes and wash off with lukewarm water.
24. Heals Wounds And Scars
Warriors in the past have been known to use saffron extracts to treat wounds suffered in battle. Saffron holds amazing healing properties that go a long way in healing wounds and removing scars and spots for a blemish free skin tone.
Saffron Benefits For Hair
Saffron is beneficial for your hair and helps in stimulating hair growth.
25. Combats Hair Loss
Saffron can be mixed with licorice and milk and applied to bald spots. This will combat hair loss and promote hair growth.
How To Select And Store?
Saffron is the most expensive of all the spices. Hence, proper selection is vital in order to get your money’s worth. Saffron is available all year round in supermarkets and specialty stores. This is available in three forms – saffron threads or stigmas, saffron tips, and saffron powder.
Saffron threads or powder should be purchased from a reputed distributor. It should be packaged in foil to provide protection from air and light. Bulk saffron is usually sold in wooden boxes.
When purchasing saffron threads, ensure that they are dark red in color. These should have orange tips and should not have any color variation. There should be no traces of yellow as they have no utility except adding dead weight. The redder the color, the better is the quality of saffron. If the tips are not orange, it means that the saffron is of inferior quality and has been dyed. Saffron threads with white spots and those with yellow stamens attached should be avoided. Saffron threads should be hard and brittle to touch.
It is a bit difficult to discern powdered saffron based on color as it is more likely to be adulterated. It generally has a lighter color than the saffron threads or tips. To ensure superior quality, it should be bought from a reputed brand or merchant. The next step is to examine its aroma. Saffron should have a strong and fresh aroma. It should smell sweet and not musty.
Though saffron is available in both thread and powdered forms, it is advisable to prefer the thread if possible, as ground saffron has a shorter shelf life than the dried threads. It is usually mixed with other ingredients and lacks the quality and flavor of saffron threads. Moreover, saffron is an expensive spice. Thus, if it is available at a cheaper price, it is likely to be of inferior quality or may even be a fake.
Saffron should be stored in an airtight container, preferably in a glass jar in a cool, dark and dry place. The ideal storage temperature for saffron is below 68F and in less than 40% humidity. Like other herbs and spices, saffron is also sensitive to light so it should be wrapped in a foil if kept in a transparent container. If the saffron stigmas are compressed together, they should be loosened and separated a bit before being transferred to the jar. This will make it easier to pull or shake out a few threads at a time. Though saffron can last several years if stored properly, it is advisable to use it within two years as it will increasingly lose more and more of its flavor with age.
Tips For Usage (Cooking/Eating)
Saffron is a versatile spice that can add a new dimension to both savory and sweet dishes. Not only does it impart a distinct flavor and aroma, it also makes your dish look more presentable. Saffron can be used in thread or ground form depending upon the recipe. If you are using saffron to garnish your dish and wish to create a visual impression, you can use threads. On the other hand, if you want the saffron to blend with your dish such that it is not obvious to the eye, you should go for its powdered form. The cooking tips given below will enable you to reap the maximum benefits from this magical spice.
- You can prepare your own powdered saffron instead of buying it from a supplier. You can do this by grinding the saffron threads with mortar and pestle. If you find it difficult to grind the threads due to its moisture content, add a pinch of sugar grains and then grind. This will make grinding easier without affecting your recipe.
- You can make liquid saffron by adding 3 to 5 teaspoons of warm or boiling water to powdered saffron and allow it to infuse for 5 to 10 minutes. It can be stored in a jar for a few weeks to be used when needed. Liquid saffron can also be prepared with milk, vinegar, or wine instead of water. It is usually added to other ingredients towards the end of cooking to draw out the color and disperse the flavor throughout the dish.
- Saffron is used to prepare saffron rice.
Soak rice in cold water for 30 minutes
- Soak saffron threads in two teaspoons of boiling water.
- Melt some butter in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Add cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon and fry for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Stir in onion and sauté.
- Stir in rice at low heat.
- Allow it to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring continuously.
- Pour in the boiling broth and stir it in salt and saffron.
- Cover and cook the rice until the liquid is absorbed.
- This will take about 40 minutes.
- Saffron can be used to prepare delicious chicken in saffron cream sauce.
- Season the fried chicken with salt and pepper
- Make sure it’s fried in butter and is brown on all sides
- Sprinkle some thyme and bay leaf
- Now add saffron and cream
- Cover the skillet and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes until the chicken is tender.
- Taste the sauce and add more salt and pepper if needed.
- Besides savoury dishes, saffron can be added to desserts as well. In India, saffron strands are often added to kheer, rasmalai, and even lassi to impart its distinct flavor and fragrant aroma. Saffron is also used as an ingredient in preparing gulab jamuns.
- You can prepare saffron tea by adding 5 to 10 strands of saffron to the boiling water while making your tea. This tea will have the distinct fragrant aroma of saffron.
Saffron USDA Nutrition Chart
|Principle||Nutrient Value||Percentage of RDA|
|Total Fat||5.85 g||29%|
|Dietary Fiber||3.9 g||10%|
|Vitamin A||530 IU||18%|
|Vitamin C||80.8 mg||135%|
Saffron, in about 100 grams of its quantity contains 310 kilocalories, 65.37 grams of carbohydrates, 11.43 grams of protein, 5.85 grams of fat and 0mg of cholesterol. Dietary fibre content is 3.9 grams with other minerals like calcium 111mg, copper, 0.328mg, iron 11.10mg, magnesium 264mg and manganese 28mg contributing to its mineral base.
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