Saffron is not grown in India or North Africa; instead it is mainly grown commercially in the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Central Asia. It was originally bred in the east; the plant is then gathered, dried and ground into a fine powder for use in cooking. For spices it is refined.
What is saffron oil?
Saffron oil, also known as saffron paste, is an oily preparation that contains saffron’s many medicinal and culinary uses. The oil has been used in the ancient world to prevent cholera, typhus and dysentery and has been used in cooking, for cleansing and in perfumes. Many commercial brands of pure saffron oil, however, are not certified by the National Institute of Agriculture and Consumer Technology (NICET).
Saffron and other spices are extracted from the plant and not refined. This means that they can contain trace amounts of lead, arsenic and other heavy metals and they are then subjected to severe processing to remove them.
Can I make my own saffron oil?
Yes; saffron is not difficult to make. The best sources of saffron are from small, family-run farms in India or Africa.
For traditional versions of the dish I refer to Traditional Spices from India and Africa, click here.
Saffron can be bought at most health food shops in many western countries (see online stores).
Other recipes and techniques are available at the Saffron Food site on this website.
For the purpose of this article we will be using traditional recipes from the traditional Indian recipe books.
What can I put into my saffron?
Saffron can be used as a vegetable stock but it is better to try it with a vegetable saute or with a fresh salad.
It is very good as a substitute for tomato paste or tomato sauce in recipes. The paste can be bought in markets and can be added to dishes such as curries and curd cakes. The best place to buy it is from Asian supermarkets as they will put it on a conveyor belt to be taken to the stores, so you never have to stand still with a long queue (or wait for it to go empty). There also are other restaurants in most parts of India where you can buy saffron paste.
Saffron can also be added to chicken or fish curry. To add a bit of colour,
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