The Indian household is one that can run on just lentils and rice, as long as there is a hint of spice!
The word spices conjure up images of bazaars and dusky maidens veiled by dripping sunlight on hot afternoons in quaint corners of Asian markets. Spices are considered a gift of the Gods in many cultures where they play a pivotal role in bringing joy and warmth to the flavors of the kitchen.
When one thinks of Indian food, it is the spices that stand out as one of the most distinctive features. The infinite variations available from varying the spices bring incredible variety to the cuisine.
Spices are used liberally throughout India, but each region has characteristic spices and spice mixtures that define its cuisine.
So what does one usually find in the mystical spice box of an Indian kitchen, we have one that is indispensable!
Saffron: A Red Gold Of Spices!
Saffron, called the ‘king of spices’ , is an herb. In India, Jammu & Kashmir is the only place wherein is saffron (kesar) is grown for commercial purposes. Ancient cultures around the world have cherished saffron for centuries and have cultivated it for a variety of reasons, including use as a culinary spice, digestive aid, and mood-boosting aphrodisiac.
Saffron has been a coveted spice for its color, flavor, and medicinal properties for over 3,500 years. It only takes one grain to color 45 liters of water a golden yellow, and it was also used to dye the bright orange robes worn by Buddhist priests in India.
A pinch of saffron added to risotto or paella enlivens the flavor of these traditional dishes. Saffron was closely studied by Hippocrates, and widely used for its anti-depressant, anti-oxidant and digestive benefits.
A Luxurious Spice
Saffron is made from the flower of the Crocus sativus plant, and grows in warm humid climates like India and the Middle East. Each lavender colored crocus flower contains three saffron stigmas, which are dried to make the spice. The flowers all bloom at once in the autumn, over a period of two or three weeks.
This luxurious spice is harvested by hand, as in ancient times, and growers must work long hours to pick all the flowers before they wilt. It takes over 75,000 stigmas to make 500g of spice, which explains why saffron is so expensive and can retail for over £2,000 per kilo! Thankfully, you only need to use a few milligrams of this luxurious spice to feel its benefits.
Saffron isn’t always your standard type of common herbs. It’s a premium kind of herbs with amazing health benefits.
The Happy Spice
There’s an undeniable link between eating and emotions. Most of us have experienced comfort eating, reaching for those biscuits after a difficult meeting at work, or that slice of cake after a stressful day. Feeling low, stressed or anxious can make it much harder to stick to a healthy eating plan, especially if you’re just starting out on your weight loss journey.
But saffron can help!
The decrease in snacking seen in the study mentioned above could be due to saffron’s anti-depressant properties. Numerous studies have shown that supplementing 30mg of saffron a day is as effective as taking anti-depressant medication like fluoxetine, without the negative side effects associated with prescription drugs. That said, saffron could be toxic if you take too much!
The soothing benefits can even be felt without ingesting it. The smell alone has been shown to reduce anxiety, by lowering the body’s levels of cortisol. Just twenty minutes exposure to saffron’s fragrance can help you feel calmer, more peaceful and in control.
If you suffer from symptoms of pre-menstrual syndrome, you may want to give saffron a try. A recent study showed that 15mg, twice a day reduces physical and emotional symptoms of PMS, such as cramps, headaches, bloating, irritability, mood-swings and food cravings, by 50%.
But that’s not all — saffron contains the compounds crocin, crocetin, carotene and lycopene, which are known to have anti-tumor and anti-oxidant properties.
Anti-oxidants are vital for good health, because they protect the body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals such as environmental pollution and processed foods. They strengthen the immune system and also help combat certain cancers. Including fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet is the best way of ensuring you get plenty of anti-oxidants and enjoy all of their health boosting properties.
Spice Up Your Diet
Saffron is indeed a splendid spice. Not only does it enliven the flavor of food and dye clothes vivid hues of yellow and orange, it boosts the immune system and brightens mood. Supplementing saffron as part of a healthy diet can help you to feel happier, cut down on snacking and lose weight.
The next time you decide to drink a glass of milk add a pinch of saffron to your glass before you pour in the hot glass. You can thank me later!
So this was a small sojourn into my carefully curated spice box. Stock up on this the next time you hit an Indian spice market. There are long winding roads of delight to be spent in the company of these gifts from India.