What’s So Special About Kashmiri Saffron? Uncovering The Business Behind

Kashmiri Saffron

Can you name a spice that is equally valuable as gold? Wait… How can you compare a noble metal with a spice? You may wonder. Because it’s a fact. And the answer is Kashmiri Saffron– the most expensive spice in the world. Well, our Kashmir valley is known for innumerable things ranging from beautiful valleys, winters, cuisine, apples, and most importantly Saffron!

Kashmiri Saffron

When it comes to saffron, only a few countries are blessed with climatic conditions that favor saffron cultivation. Fortunately, India is one of them. However, it is not the largest producer of Saffron! Really? Then how come the Kashmiri saffron is considered the best in the world? Because of its exceptional qualities.

So, what’s so special about Kashmiri Saffron that makes it highly outstanding? We will uncover its specialties in this write-up.

Keep reading!

Kashmiri Saffron: The Threads of Red Gold

The History of Kashmiri Saffron dates back to 500 BC. Its royal legacy is still an integral part of Kashmir’s rich cultural, regional, and culinary heritage. Do you know the Saffron of Kashmir is known as “The Threads of Red Gold”? Such an aesthetic name! In Hindi you call it “Kesar.”

Let’s delve into the detailed info of it.

Despite being highly expensive and of lesser production, Kashmiri Saffron successfully beats its competitors like Iranian saffron and Spanish saffron.

1. Pampore: The Saffron Town of Kashmir

Which city is famous for saffron in India? You may ask. The answer is Pampore! It is located approx. 16.5km south of Srinagar.

Pampore Town- Famous for Kashmiri saffron

The Kashmir Valley is quite vast that includes areas of Pakistan too. However, only 5,707 hectares of land is suitable for saffron cultivation. And out of that, over 90% of saffron is produced in Pampore tehsil of Pulwama district (South Kashmir). Being an Indian, you surely remember the name Pulwama…While the rest of the saffron is produced in the Budgam and Srinagar districts of Central Kashmir.

That’s why folks call Pampore the “The Saffron Town of Kashmir.”

2. A Brief Botanical Information about Saffron

The most expensive spice Saffron is obtained from the flower named “Crocus sativus.” Commonly it is called “Saffron crocus.” It’s a beautiful flower that blooms in the autumn season. 

2.1) Description of the saffron plant

Saffron plant description

Crocus sativus is a perennial herb (present throughout the year) but blooms only in the autumn. It grows about 10-30 cm in height and develops an underground corm (just like a sweet potato). This underground corm produces leaves, bracts, and flowering stalks. 

2.2) Description of the saffron flower

Saffron Flower

In the autumn season, the saffron plant gives rise to purple flowers. The saffron flowers are usually sterile in nature. This flower has the following parts-

  • Six petals 
  • Three orange-red colored stigmas (the female reproductive part of the flower).  This stigma is the saffron spice!
  • Three yellow-colored stamens (the male reproductive part of the flower). 

The stigma is of rich orange-red color due to the presence of Crocetin- a pigment containing acid and carotenoid crocin. The crocin content of Kashmiri saffron is 8.72%.

Now, you must be wondering- How reproduction of the saffron plant occurs since it is sterile? Through corms! Yes, the corms (bulb root) divide every year underground and give rise to new plants. Saffron flowers don’t reproduce through flowers but from corms.

That’s also a reason for its low quantitative production!

2.3) Condition Required for the Growth of Saffron Flowers

Do you know what factors make it a highly unique flower? The requirements of its growth! Yes. You can’t grow it anywhere like an ordinary flower. The Saffron crocus flower grows best in areas of full sun, moderately- low temperature, and well-drained soil with good organic content. The pH range must be 6.8 to 7.8 which is common in the areas of Western Himalayas. The saffron flower blooms from September to December in Kashmir.

How Kashmiri Saffron is produced?

How Kashmiri Saffron is produced?

As you have read above, the Kashmiri Saffron spice comes from the stigmas of Saffron crocus flowers. Each flower contains 3 stigmas that are handpicked and dried to make the saffron spice. 

Can you guess how many flowers you need to produce 1 gram of saffron? Approx. 1000 flowers! That’s one of the reasons for its high price.

The saffron production period begins in September and ends in December. 

Why is Kashmiri Saffron so expensive?

Well, the answers to this question lie in the above paragraphs. To make them easier, we have described them crisply in the following points-

1. High Crocin Content

Kesar from Kashmir Valley

This is the most important factor that makes Kashmiri Saffron the most expensive type of saffron. You will find a striking difference in the crocin content of Kashmir saffron and other saffron. For instance, the crocin content of Iranian saffron is 6.82% when compared to the 8.72% crocin content of Kashmiri saffron.

2. Labor Intensive Production Process

Labor intensive process for producing kesar

As you have read above, saffron is the stigma of the flower “Crocus sativus.” Therefore, you need to pluck it by hand. You need over 1000 flowers to obtain 1 gram of saffron. Not only is it labor intensive but also a time-consuming process. Also, there are strict protocols for that! You have to pluck the flowers in the early morning of harvesting months (Late September to early December). Due to the absence of machinery, the manual production of saffron makes it expensive. 

3. Only 4 months available for production

The harvest period of Saffron is extremely short, which ranges for only four months. Although the plant is perennial, the flowering season is extremely short. Only a limited amount of saffron is produced during these months.

4. The GI Tag

Ever since the Kashmiri Saffron received the GI (Geographical Indication) tag from Geographical Indications Registry. Its price reached a sky high of Rs.325 per gram. This makes it more expensive than silver! Also, it grows at an altitude of 1600m to 1800m above sea level. Thus, Kashmiri Saffron is one of the most unique types of saffron in the world. 

Kashmiri Saffron vs. Iranian Saffron

Kashmiri Saffron vs Iranian Saffron

Let’s look at some of the striking differences between the two famous types of saffron-

ParticularsKashmiri SaffronIranian Saffron
ColorA dark shade of red-orange colorA light shade of orange-red color
Crocin Content 8.72%6.82%
Size of stigma headSlightly broader stigma headComparatively narrower stigma head
Cost (per gram)Higher (Approx. Rs.325 per gram)Lower (Approx. Rs.200)
Production Quantity15.04 metric tonnes300 metric tonnes
Production PercentageLess than 10% of the world’s production90% of the world’s production
Kashmiri Saffron vs Iranian Saffron

Despite producing saffron at a humongous amount, Iranian saffron still falls behind Kashmiri saffron in terms of quality. And what’s the reason for that? The superior quality of Kashmiri saffron is due to the presence of a high amount of Crocin. It is a diterpenoid i.e. a kind of natural carotenoid found in plants.

Now, here comes the most common question of folks- “Who is the largest manufacturer of Saffron in the world?”

The answer is Iran! It produces over 90% of the world’s saffron.

Connection of Kashmiri Saffron with Iranian Variety

The above table describes the tough competition that Kashmiri saffron faces from Iranian or Persian saffron. When Iranian saffron entered the market, the price of Kashmiri saffron decreased rapidly. The price of Kashmiri saffron was halved due to this!

To combat this issue, India has placed high taxation on Iranian saffron to protect the Kashmiri saffron in the market.

The other saffron-producing countries are-

  • Spain (Yellow-orange in color)
  • Greece
  • Afghanistan
  • Morocco

Who is the largest consumer of Saffron?

The largest saffron consuming countries are-

Saffron Consuming CountriesPercentage of world importsWorth (Cost)
China13.6%$31 million
Spain13%$30 million
Saudi Arabia9.88%$22 million
India9.39%$21 million
USA7.44%$17.2 million
World’s largest consumer of Saffron

China is the largest consumer of Saffron! It imports over 13.6% of world saffron that is worth over $31 million.

Benefits of Saffron

Saffron, the exquisite and expensive spice derived from the Crocus sativus flower, boasts an impressive array of health benefits. This health-beneficial spice has been treasured for centuries.

Benefits of Kesar

Some of the potent benefits of Saffron as per some health-related websites are-

1. Powerhouse of Antioxidants

None of us are unaware of the benefits conferred by the antioxidants. Saffron is rich in carotenoids like crocin, crocetin, and safranal. Thus, with the help of these antioxidants, saffron neutralizes harmful free radicals and protects our body from oxidative stress.

2. Mood Enhancer

Saffron has been linked to improving mood and reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. How? Through its ability to boost serotonin levels in the brain.

3. Memory and Cognition

Studies suggest that saffron may enhance memory and cognitive function, making it potentially useful in managing age-related cognitive decline.

4. Eye Health

Saffron contains crocin, which is a carotenoid (Vitamin A). And we all know the significance of vitamin A in improving the health of the eyes. Also, it acts against age-related macular degeneration to promote overall eye health.

5. Skin Benefits

Kashmiri saffron is famous for providing skin benefits. When used topically, saffron improves skin tone, reduces blemishes, and provides a radiant complexion.

Apart from the health benefits, Kashmiri saffron also confers economic benefits. How? You may ask. Despite being a small producer of saffron, India exports it too! And you already know the high price and demand for Kashmiri saffron due to its superior quality. The usage of Saffron in Indian sweet dishes and biryanis has become an integral part of our culture. That’s why Saffron holds great significance in our country.

Saffron Revival Plan by Government

National Saffron Mission

The National Saffron Mission is a significant government initiative in India, launched to revitalize and promote the cultivation of saffron. It comes under the governance of the Ministry of Science & Technology. 

Implemented primarily in the region of Jammu and Kashmir, where saffron has historical significance. The mission aims to improve agricultural practices, boost farmer income, and preserve the traditional heritage of saffron cultivation. Let’s delve into it-

1. Objective

The primary goal of the National Saffron Mission is to increase saffron production and productivity. This will lead to enhanced income for farmers and economic growth in the region.

2. Geographical Focus

The mission primarily targets the saffron-rich region of Jammu and Kashmir. Here, the climate and soil conditions are suitable for saffron cultivation. In 2020, the geographical focus and objective of the mission were revised to expand saffron cultivation to the North East too! Why? Because the climate of the northeast and Kashmir are a bit similar.

3. Modern Farming Techniques

Farmers are provided with training and resources to adopt modern and scientific saffron farming practices. It includes improved planting methods, pest management, and harvesting techniques. Financial aid is also offered to farmers to encourage them to adopt advanced farming technologies and equipment.

Through the National Saffron Mission, the Indian government seeks to revitalize saffron cultivation. Also to uplift rural economies, and strengthen the position of Indian saffron in the global market.

Final Words

Do you know Saffron holds great significance in Indian Flag? The first saffron-colored stripe of our national flag represents the strength and courage in the country. It has religious importance too i.e. in Hinduism and Sikhism.

In conclusion, Kashmiri saffron stands out as an exceptional spice revered worldwide for its unmatched quality and unique flavor profile. Its distinct characteristics stem from the region’s ideal climate, soil conditions, and traditional cultivation practices. 

The saffron industry in Kashmir has a rich history and plays a crucial role in the region’s economy. However, it also faces challenges concerning adulteration and fair trade practices. 

As consumers, it is essential to be aware of the complexities within the saffron business and support ethical producers. By appreciating the true value of Kashmiri saffron & sustainable practices, we can preserve this treasured spice for future generations.

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Published By: Supti Nandi
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Shainya Gupta
Shainya Gupta
9 months ago

Last week I bought saffron which was more costly that I thought. Although its packaging clearly mentioned the Kashmiri origin but still I doubt it. Can you please suggest how to differentiate original saffron from the fabricated ones?