India's Ancient Link With Saffron And 6 Ways To Use It

Luxury, opulence, royalty. These are just a few of the words that come to mind when thinking about saffron, one of the world’s rarest and most treasured spices. These hand-picked and dried stigmas of the crocus flower may be globally sought after but they’re also firmly rooted in Indian cuisine, medicine and culture and have incredible historical and symbolic value. As India's 47th Independence Day approaches it’s worth looking back over the long history of the spice and how it came to mean so much to India. 

Saffron, also known as kesar, is used to infuse flavour and meaning into a range of traditional cuisines. Its bright colour is associated with Hindu religious activities ranging from Diwali celebrations to marriages, evoking spiritual connections. Saffron is all around us, enhancing our lives. The presence of saffron is ubiquitous, enriching sweet and savoury delicacies alike, accentuating its profound influence on India's culinary landscape.

Its aroma and colour enhance dishes while also carrying ancient religious significance and makes many appearances in ancient Ayurvedic texts and is depicted in Hindu texts like Rigveda. The spice gradually integrated into culinary practices, adorning dishes with its aromatic essence since the 8th century AD.

Its versatility extends beyond the kitchen though and it makes a home in traditional medicine, where it is believed to aid in many ways from digestion to alleviating anxiety. Studies indicate its potential in mitigating symptoms of depression and PMS. Saffron also has a cultural relevance in Hindu rituals and ceremonies symbolising purity, joy, luck, and fertility, and its presence in marriage traditions underscores its importance. 

Culinary applications showcase saffron's distinctive flavours, enhancing dishes across cultures while preserving ancient traditions. Indian saffron varieties like Kashmiri, Kesar, and Zafran are renowned globally for their quality, a testament to generations of farming techniques. Health-wise, saffron's antioxidant properties combat oxidative damage, potentially guarding against chronic illnesses. The spice's ability to bolster the immune system through increased white blood cell production contributes to overall well-being. 

A symbol of prosperity and vitality, saffron remains invaluable, inviting all to explore its unique allure and taste.

Here are 6 dishes you can make with saffron this Independence Day:


A quintessential Indian dish, saffron biryani is a celebration of flavours and textures. Fragrant basmati rice is layered with marinated meat or vegetables, and the saffron is dissolved in warm milk and drizzled over the top. The saffron's golden strands not only infuse the rice with a beautiful colour but also lend a subtle floral note that enhances the complexity.


Beat the heat with a refreshing and fragrant saffron lassi. This yoghurt-based drink is infused with saffron strands, lending a visually appealing hue and a delicate aroma. A touch of cardamom and rose water complements the saffron, creating a symphony of flavours that's both cooling and indulgent.

Kesar Pulao: 

For a lighter option, prepare saffron pulao—a fragrant rice dish that's quick and easy to make. Basmati rice is cooked with saffron, whole spices, and aromatic vegetables, resulting in a visually captivating and flavourful dish that pairs well with a variety of curries.

Shahi Paneer:

Indulge in the vegetarian delight fit for an emperor with Shahi Paneer. The term 'Shahi' translates to 'royal,' and 'Paneer' refers to the rich, solid cream cheese used in this exquisite dish. The dish is a tribute to the opulent tastes of the Mughal emperors. Paneer is first deep-fried then sautéed with a blend of saffron, cinnamon, cloves, and cardamom, and finished with cream, and nuts, to infuse the dish with regal flavours. 


Saffron doesn't only grace savoury dishes it shines in desserts too as seen in the beloved delicacy, Kheer. Depending on the regional variation, it can also embrace the aromatic essence of cardamom, the velvety richness of coconut milk, and the delectable crunch of raisins, cashew nuts, pistachios, or almonds. Traditionally savoured during festive occasions, saffron makes every spoonful a celebration.


Elevate the luxurious rasmalai by incorporating saffron into the milk syrup. The saffron's vibrant colour and distinct aroma will enhance the delicate sweetness of the chenna dumplings, creating a dessert that's both visually stunning and indulgent.

Kesar Kulfi: 

Sweeten your Independence Day feast with saffron kulfi, a traditional Indian ice cream. Infused with saffron strands, this frozen dessert boasts a unique flavour profile that's both creamy and exotic. The saffron's warm and earthy notes combine with the rich, milky base to create a memorable sweet ending.