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July 2012
Reap The Saffron Hues 
Panchali Moitra
Saffron or kesar has been a mainstay in our cuisine since centuries. It may be one of the most expensive culinary spices in the world, but the pleasant tinge, exotic flavour and myriad medicinal benefits drawn from just a pinch of saffron can surely outweigh its hefty price tag.

The dried stigma of saffron flower contains chemical components known as picrocrocin and safranal which impart saffron its distinctive hue and flavour. The natural carotenoids present in saffron are responsible for its disease preventing and health promoting benefits.

Golden Benefits
  • Digestion:The stimulating effect of saffron helps improve appetite and digestion and also to relieve acidity and abdominal gas.
  • Insomnia and sleep problems:Being a natural sedative, saffron is recommended to treat stress related depression, insomnia and anxiety. Drinking a glass of hot kesar milk at bedtime to induce sound sleep is perhaps one of the most nostalgic childhood memories for many.
  • Immunity booster:The active components in saffron show antioxidant, memory enhancing and immunity boosting properties.
  • Vision health:Saffron based herbal supplements are said to act against age-related macular degeneration and partial vision loss, and help in post cataract recovery. The effects of saffron on genetic eye disorders are also being researched.
  • Expectorant:Saffron is linked with relieving common cold, cough, asthma, whooping cough and fever. Massaging gums with saffron powder is effective against soreness and mouth inflammations.
  • Skin tumours and cancer:The volatile oils and flavonoids in saffron exhibit anti-cancer effects, especially against liver cancers and skin tumours.
  • Heart troubles:Crocetin, a carotenoid present in saffron, helps to bring down the bad LDL cholesterol, reduce plaque and improve atherosclerosis.
  • Blood purifier:Saffron improves complexion, reduces acne and arrests hair fall. Saffron also aids in reducing menstrual cramps and premenustrual syndrome (PMS) related discomforts.
Saffron is an expensive herb and so ensuring its authenticity is all the more important when sourcing it from grocers and others. A simple test would be to dip a few strands of kesar in hot milk or water and let it soak for 10-15 minutes. The release of colour and flavour from pure saffron should be gradual and not immediate. Saffron can be enjoyed in kheers, biryanis, risottos, paella, vegetable dishes, mithais or as saffron tea.

Whilst saffron is considered safe for consumption in small amounts for limited period, unsupervised high doses may cause vomiting, skin discolouration, nose bleeding and sometimes limb numbness. Pregnant women and breast-feeding moms should specially be careful.

Saffron Goodies
Kesar Shrikhand:
  • Pour curd in a muslin cloth and hang it for a couple of hours to drain out excess water.
  • Add a pinch of saffron to 2-3 tablespoons of warm milk in a bowl and let it infuse for 15 minutes.
  • Add elaichi powder and crushed sugar to the thickened curd.
  • Pour in the saffron milk, cover and chill.
  • Sprinkle sliced almonds before serving.
Kesar Badam Milk Shake
  • Grind together soaked and peeled badam/almonds, sugar, cardamom, kesar threads and milk or vanilla ice cream to prepare this energy-dense, child-friendly milk shake.
Saffron Chicken
  • Toss boneless chicken cubes in olive oil on a heated pan till golden brown Remove and set aside.
  • Add chopped onions, shredded ginger, salt, red chilli powder and stir for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add chicken cubes, water and saffron strands, and cook covered on low heat for 15-20 minutes.
  • Enjoy this Mid Eastern classic dish garnished with parsley and a dash of limejuice with rice or pita bread.

Saffron Tea

  • Infuse saffron threads in hot water.
  • Dip in a tea bag, add honey and cinnamon powder.
  • Relish hot or with crushed ice.
Dr Panchali Moitra is Nutrition Expert,Weight Management Consultant,Kolkata.

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