World’s Best Saffron is Kesar – Kashmir’s Saffron But Why?

India is the second-largest producer of saffron in the world, well behind Iran. However, despite this, the variety grown in Kashmir commands a handsome premium over the Iranian produce.

Kashmiri saffron

Kashmiri saffron, also known as Kashmiri Kesar or Kashmir Saffron, is highly regarded for its exceptional quality and is considered among the finest saffron varieties in the world. It is cultivated in the Kashmir region of India, where the climate and soil conditions create an ideal environment for saffron production.

Jammu and Kashmir’s Pampore town are adorned with vibrant purple flowers and the air is filled with the sweet aroma of saffron, the world’s most expensive spice.

When is Kashmiri Saffron Harvested – Harvested just once a year between October 20 and November 15, the prized Kashmiri saffron (Crocus Sativus), is considered the best in the world due to its aroma, colour and medicinal value.

Iran accounts for 88 percent of the world’s saffron production, while India is a very distant second with 7 percent. The rest comes from Spain, Greece, Italy and other countries.

Jammu and Kashmir is the largest saffron-producing region in the country.

Characteristics of Kashmiri saffron:

  1. Deep red colour: Kashmiri saffron threads have a rich and vibrant deep red colour, which is indicative of its high-quality and potency.
  2. Strong aroma: The aroma of Kashmiri saffron is intense and distinct, often described as floral, earthy, and slightly sweet. The fragrance adds depth and complexity to dishes.
  3. Robust flavour: Kashmiri saffron has a robust and distinct flavour that is often described as floral, honey-like, and slightly bitter. It lends a unique taste to a variety of culinary creations.
  4. High crocin content: Crocin is the compound responsible for the vibrant red colour of saffron. Kashmiri saffron is known for its high crocin content, which contributes to its intense colour and potency.
  5. Labour-intensive cultivation: The cultivation of Kashmiri saffron involves meticulous handpicking of the delicate saffron threads from the Crocus sativus flowers. This labor-intensive process ensures the preservation of saffron’s quality and integrity.

Department of Agriculture in Kashmir

Officials from the Department of Agriculture in Kashmir claim that the saffron produced in Kashmir is not just organic but contains a good amount of colouring strength (crocin concentration), and high aroma power (safranal). The taste of saffron determines its quality (picrocrocin).

National Saffron Mission

Climate change and the lack of irrigation facilities between 2000 and 2010 have badly hit the Kashmir Valley’s saffron industry, forcing the central government to launch the National Saffron Mission in 2010.

According to official figures, before the mission was launched, saffron production had dwindled from 15.9796 metric tonnes  (MT) in 1997 to 8.2 MT in 2009 and the land under its cultivation had also shrunk from from 5,707 hectares in 1996 to around 3,280 hectares in 2009.

Data shows that the Rs 400 crore mission helped production rise from 1.4895 MT in 2011 to 13.357575 MT in 2020 and during the same period the acreage was also expanded from 331 hectares to 2,598.75 hectares.

The spice, known locally as ‘Kong’, is produced in four districts of J&K: Pulwama, Budgam, Srinagar and Kishtwar. However, it is Pampore in Pulwama district that has earned the sobriquet ‘saffron town’ because of the quality of its saffron.

Kashmiri saffron is sought after by chefs, culinary enthusiasts, and connoisseurs worldwide for its premium quality and unique flavour profile. It is used in a wide range of dishes, including rice pilafs, biryanis, desserts, and beverages. When purchasing Kashmiri saffron, it is advisable to source it from reputable suppliers who provide authentic and certified products to ensure you are getting genuine Kashmiri saffron.