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Ingredient of the week: Saffron

Food By Wambui Kuria
Saffron comes in threads or powder form (Photo: Instagram @jogjaorganic)

Saffron, known in Kiswahili as zafarani, is one of the most expensive spices in the world. It costs about Sh1, 500 for a few grams, because it takes roughly 70,000 crocus flowers to produce just one pound of dried saffron. In Kenya, it is sold in two forms — threads and powder — and each behave differently when used in cooking. It is only available in some supermarkets and health shops.

For cooking, saffron can be substituted with turmeric. The difference is that saffron adds a slight creamy/smoky aroma to dishes that turmeric does not. Saffron gives a soft, mild buttery-yellow colour whereas turmeric’s shade is more intense. Saffron has a distinctive flavour that can be overpowering if used excessively. It is best used when cooking meats, rice, desserts and curries.

Saffron adds a smoky aroma and buttery-yellow colour to food (Photo: Instagram @saffronprinceindonesia)

In some countries, saffron is used for religious purposes; it is also used as fabric dye and perfumery.

Studies show that saffron can reduce blood pressure and mood swings. However, if taken in large doses, it can act as a uterine stimulant and could cause contractions so as with any herb or spice, use saffron in moderation, especially when you’re pregnant.

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