Buying Kashmiri Saffron? Real or Fake?

I hear stories of an ancient land so pure.
I see photographs of bluer than blue skies
over a lake of molten gold.
I drink kahwa flavoured with almond and saffron
and add honey, sweetened by bees from the valley
– Jhilmil Breckenridge (Ballads of Kashmir)
Saffron Corm
The more one talks about the beauty of Kashmir, the more they fall in love with it. One such treasure of Kashmir is its high quality saffron. Sown in fields that appear like an innocent sun-drenched dawn, draped in the mystic of golden hue and dew, the saffron is a gift of two Sufi aesthetics who came to Kashmir in late 11th and early 12th century. While their stay, both the foreigners were caught by an ailing sickness. A local tribal man aided them by finding a cure to their disease. Both the wanderers were grateful to the native man and offered him a saffron corm as reverence. Since then, saffron, along with almonds and walnut kernels, has become synonyms with Kashmir. The major crop of saffron in Kashmir is found in the town
of Pampore, widely known as the Kesar Valley. The world’s most expensive spice is harvested by a huge number of labour that work together to extract it from the dried stigmas of a perennial plant, Crocus Sativus. The saffron crocus is found only in Kashmir, and in some parts of Spain and Iran.
saffron threads
Due to the purity of Kashmiri saffron, leading to an excessive demand, people have started selling fake saffron to the seekers. Coming from the golden land, it is my privilege to spread the awareness about it. Saffron is so versatile, it adds a rich charm to any foods, sweets and aids in diseases like cough, Alzheimer, depression, etc.; and is also often used for its beauty benefits, hence adulteration of saffron is an offense that should be addressed seriously. The expensively sold fake saffron is not even close to the aroma, colour and texture of the real one, it is rather distastefully sweet and contrasting the intense taste of real saffron. Thus, retrieved from various sources and real-personal experiences of people I have come across the following ways to identify the original saffron that hails from Kashmir.


Looks, taste and smell
 saffron
The first look of a saffron strand speaks soundly of its purity. An original saffron string will consist of an overall red coloured thread with a slight yellowish shade at the base. The first instinct to identify real saffron is its saturated red colour and then its taste. If you put a pinch of saffron on your tongue and it tastes sweet, know that you are fooled. The real saffron does not taste like anything, it’s more neutral tasting and also has a honey-bitten smell. The fresh saffron has an aroma as if dipped and soaked in honey while old saffron might lose its pungency. If so be the case, the colour and taste of Kashmiri saffron stand together to defend its purity and by keeping these three factors about saffron in mind, you can easily identify the pure one.


Water Test
Saffron water test
The Kashmiri women are best to talk to about this homely test of checking the authenticity of Kashmiri saffron like my nain (grandmother). In her numerous fairy tales from Kashmir one of them was located in a saffron field. As she began reciting it to us, she grew vehemently intense about the subject. She had told us the ultimate mantra and it starts with a bowl, half immersed in water.
Put a small amount of saffron in the bowl to see water change its colour”, she instructed.
But so can the fake one right?” I asked in child-like curiosity. To answer my inquisitive question, she explained that if the saffron is real, the water will slowly and initially turn pale yellowish and gradually a more vibrant yellow. If this happens immediately after adding saffron, it’s fake. Also, the strands of pure saffron will secure its original colour in water, whereas the fake ones will lose it. And, thus I had learned the lesson of my lifetime.
Store this enigmatic gift of nature safely in little “Dibbis” like my grandmother, and as she advised, keep them at room temperature and not refrigerators as the change in temperature might absorb its moisture. Saffron has become the victim of adulteration. Let us create more awareness about its subtlety and purity to maintain its great usage in food and medicine, honour the enigmas of nature, and to keep alive the stories of our ancestors, drenched in pure memories of Kashmir.
Kashmiri box
Buying real Kashmiri saffron has become a task in the present scenario. The sellers of fake saffron have covered the market at large. For people who cannot go to Kashmir, they can buy saffron online from websites such as Kashmiri Box (https://www.kashmirbox.com/), FabIndia (https://www.fabindia.com/), Kashmiri Bazaar (https://www.kashmiribazaar.in), etc. If you are buying saffron from physical store, ask them to take a water test to assure its purity. A simple step of heedfulness can uplift the usage of real saffron and reduce its adulteration.