The History of Saffron Rice

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Saffron rice is a dish made from white rice and saffron. The recipe is comparable to plain cooked rice, with some ingredients added. Saffron rice comes in many variants.

Plain saffron rice is cooked in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, with joha rice or basmati rice, saffron, vegetable bouillon, ghee, and bay leaves. While sweet saffron rice, named zarda, is made from white rice, saffron, table sugar, rose water, roasted pine seeds, and chopped pistachio nuts in Iran, Turkey, India, and Pakistan.

Given that saffron rice is made of saffron, it is also essential to understand the history and uses of this spice. Its cultivation and usage dates back more than 3,000 years and covers many continents, civilizations, and cultures. Read on to find out more about this delicious dish.

The History of Saffron Rice
Image Source: cookingchanneltv.com

History of Saffron

Saffron, the ancient world’s red-gold, is native to the Mediterranean area, Asia Minor, and Iran, but was first grown in Iran and Kashmir. Through the Mongol invasion, it is supposed to have been brought into Cathay. 

It is derived from the dried stigmas of the purple saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), which has been among the world’s highest-valued substances throughout history. Its costliness has a great deal to do with its harvesting.

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Only a limited quantity of each saffron flower is used, and all harvesting ought to be accomplished manually. The three orange stigmas of every flower are collected and dried to make saffron spice. It takes 75,000 saffron flowers to produce one pound of saffron spice since only a small part of the flower is used.

Uses of Saffron

Saffron is a spice and dye which is used for flavoring and coloring food and other items. It has a strong, exotic aroma, and a bitter taste. It is an essential ingredient in French bouillabaisse soup, and a noteworthy flavor in many Mediterranean and Asian dishes, particularly rice and fish.

In halls, courts, theaters, and baths, the ancient Greeks and Romans used saffron as a perfume. The streets of Rome were sprinkled with saffron as Nero made his entry into the city. It became especially tied to the hetairai, a skilled class of Greek courtesans.

It was first documented in an Assyrian botanical reference from the 7th century BC, compiled under Ashurbanipal to treat some ninety diseases. It was also mentioned in the Chinese materia medica (Pun tsaou, 1552–78), and in a 10th-century English leech book or healing book. The medicinal spice may have gone away from Western Europe before the crusaders re-introduced it.

Shortly after the death of Buddha, his priests made saffron the official color of their robes. The golden-colored and water-soluble fabric dye has been used in several cultures for royal garments. In Song of Solomon 4:14, it is named amongst the sweet-smelling herbs

How to Make Saffron Rice

Saffron rice makes meals particularly unique and is almost as easy to make as regular rice. This easy recipe for saffron rice hails from the south of Thailand, as detailed by The Spruce Eats.

Saffron not only brings its signature flavor to this dish but also gives the rice its signature yellow color. Because saffron is so costly, this recipe needs just a small amount. You may also wish to add turmeric to give the rice a vibrant yellow color. 

Ingredients

First, prepare the ingredients.

  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 3 1/2 cups good-quality chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • A squeeze of lemon (or lime) juice
  • 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoon fish sauce (or 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. salt if vegetarian/vegan, to taste)
  • 2 cups white Thai jasmine-scented rice (or white basmati rice, not brown rice)

Method

Pour the stock into a medium-sized pot with a secure lid. Place the container over high heat onto the burner. Add the saffron, turmeric, chili, and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice, while the stock gets to boil. Stir well.

Add the rice, plus 1 1/2 tablespoons of fish sauce (or 1/4 teaspoon salt) and stir. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover tightly with a lid. 

Cook for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Turn off heat when most of the liquid is gone, and place the lid tightly on. Allow the pot to remain on the burner for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until you’re ready to eat.

The History of Saffron Rice

Conclusion

Although saffron is described as “the spice cabinet’s prima donna,” a little bit of this expensive spice goes a long way. 

Saffron rice, which offers a subtle and savory flavor, is just one of the many dishes you can make from this spice.

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