Sometime in the past, the town, also known as ‘saffron town’ was full of the beautiful fragrant saffron flowers or crocuses. Some say some Sufi saints gifted the local chief a saffron bulb while others say it was brought to Kashmir by Persian traders coming from Iran. Some give credit to the Mughal empire for bringing with it this superior spice and ways to use it.
Sadly, this treasured spice is fast waning. The reasons are many - from climate change to few unfriendly policies, to the unstable environment in the state of Jammu and Kashmir to intense competition from the mass produced Iranian saffron.
But, inspite of all of this - our partner farmer, a third generation saffron farmer is determined to continue growing the family’s heirloom saffron. Most of the families in Pampore are saffron growers but slowly the changing landscape forces some to cut corners. But, all our partner farm is keen on, is preserving this luxurious spice and maintaining its status, flavour and aroma intact.
Maintaining a sustainable, long term business and that too in farming, in the region comes with its many, many challenges. Frequent lockdowns, lack of funds or investments, internet breakdowns, lack of infrastructure to upgrade are everyday hindrances. But, our partner farmer feels very strongly about this and is clear that preserving this legacy spice is crucial.
How is Kashmir saffron grown:
Through the year, the soil is prepped for seed plantation. The moisture levels are strictly monitored, the land is divided into levels and the seeds are planted in the higher level to prevent flooding by moisture. Sometime during September, the saffron seeds also known as ‘corms’ are sowed. October is when the plant starts to flower and between October 20 to November 1 is when the flowers are at peak. The flowers are hand plucked and stored safely for processing - this is also a skill as storing improperly will lead to spoilage.
The saffron flower or crocuses have three elements - the petals, yellow strands and red strands. The red strands are the most important ones - saffron is derived from this. The red strands have a tail which has to be dried, moistened again and then the tail is removed. THIS red strand, without the tail is now ‘Mongra’ or A++ or the first grade, purest Kashmir Saffron and is what we have at Local Sparrow. We were blown away by the skills of our partner farmer in processing these strands by hand.
Why Kashmir Saffron:
The Pampore land is blessed with soil to give us the best saffron there is. The soil naturally contains higher crocin - the element which gives saffron the natural, deep red color. The entire process of planting to harvest to processing is by hand and that gives the final Kesar a different finish. Kashmir Saffron has a flat head which holds the deep aroma and oil and releases the flavour. Kashmir Kesar strands are thicker, have a higher oil and ash content. The strands are denser in flavour and you need really little quantities to do more with it. The Kashmiri saffron has a blood like red color but also a gleaming shine. It is not yellow, not orange, not the pinkish red largely seen around. The color is very distinct, the aroma wafts through sweetly and is deeply complex.
What about comparisons to the kesar from Iran?
Iranian Kesar is grown at a massive scale and the whole process is standard with a lot of mechansied help and hence, much cheaper compared to the Kashmir saffron. However, Kashmir saffron has a higher crocin content (8%+) as compared to Iran saffron (approx 6.5%). Higher crocin gives that deeper color and enhanced medicinal properties to the Kashmiri kesar.
The Iraninan strands are also thinner compared to the thicker Kashmir ones. Kashmir saffron has that edge in terms of the oil, aroma, flavour being enhanced because it is hand plucked and hand processed - there is a definite difference.
A small amount of Kashmir saffron is enough as compared to Iran kesar. Slow infusion with patience is the key with Kashmir kesar. Saffron takes a tad longer to infuse in milk than water so wait for a little longer for the color and flavour to seep in.
From savoury items like Biryani to desserts like rasmalai and rabdi and phirni to simpler, everyday delicacies like kesar doodh and shrikhand, Kashmir Kesar lends a beautiful flavour to anything that it is added to. Delicious and decadent!
For us at Local Sparrow, getting good quality, original saffron wasn’t enough. We wanted to bring in the emotion of authentic, heirloom Kashmir kesar, grown with love, grown with the long standing traditions and expertise, grown amongst the community, grown for continuity of the deep culture it represents. We are proud to bring Kashmir Kesar to you and hope you enjoy this spice as much as we did bringing it to you.