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Saturday, 21 July 2012

Let's Chat about Chaat

As I prepare for our  Indian Street Food booth (with a healthy twist of course!) at the Canmore Folk Fest, it is only appropriate to about the most common form of street food in India - the Chaat!

Chaat (meaning "taste" or "lick") is the umbrella name given to savoury snacks and appetizers in Indian and Pakistani cuisine. Most Chaat dishes originated in my state of Gujarat or Uttar Pradesh but it is widely popular all over the Indian & Asian Sub-continent now. It usually comprises of something crunchy, a vegetable or bean layer, chutneys or sauces and of course special spice mixes! Many are eaten cold and some hot. In India, these are typically offered by food carts or specialist restaurants and in the West, in most Indian restaurants. Just as there is so much diversity within Indian food (other than Butter Chicken!), there is just as much in the different types of Chaats.

What I love about Chaat is that it encompasses a real balance in flavours . Take the Chaat I will be making for the Folk Fest: a Healthy Chickpea Chaat. The crunch will be kale (and hemp seeds), the bean: chickpea to be served in a tamarind sauce and also a coconut yoghurt chutney as an optional. The organic spice mix will include cayenne, cumin, mango powder (amchur), coriander, salt and other spices This is quite a tangy dish given the tamarind and yoghurt chutney but the spice mix is well balanced with the hot, pungent, tangy, sweet and mild. Refreshing, gluten free and so good for you!

Other examples of Chaat are:

(small, fried, wheat flour disk piled with potato or chickpeas, tamarind sauce, mint sauce and yoghurt)


(puffed rice to which onions, green chilies, herbs and various sauces are added)

and of course the more popular Samosas and Pakoras!

If you haven't tasted Chaat, add this to your bucket list for sure! If you have, what's your favourite?

Friday, 13 July 2012

Will the Real Saffron please stand up?

Ahead of the imminent launch of our own organic saffron, I came across something quite disturbing. It seems the practice of selling fake or adulterated spices continues even in the 21st century and Saffron is the biggest victim of them all.

Knowing what you buy is just as important for food as it is for anything else. When you buy a computer, you would want to know the memory space, speed, processor details so why not know where your spices come from and what grade they are?

How to tell the True Saffron from the Fake?  Here are some ways to tell the difference:


The fake saffron is commonly known as American Saffron or Mexican Saffron. True saffron is Greek Saffron, Spanish Saffron or true Saffron.

 Botanical Name

Fake saffron is derived from the dried petals of Safflower (or Carthamus tinctorius), a stiff thistle plant (bottom). In India, true saffron is sometimes replaced or mixed with turmeric as another form of adulteration. Strands of dyed gelatin or corn silk have also been used. True saffron is derived from the stigmas of the crocus sativus plant (top).


As you will see from the photos below, fake saffron (top) is much lighter in colour than true saffron (bottom).


The fake saffron strands are straighter and coarser. True saffron strands are finer and usually have trumpet like shape ends.


American Saffron or other fake saffrons do not contain crocin which is the colouring agent found in true saffron and which has the potential brain health benefits of saffron. Fake saffron usually releases a red-orange colour and pretty quickly too whereas true saffron should release its colour slowly to a beautiful golden yellow colour. Some fake saffrons even dissolve in the water or leach the dye colour to leave behind different coloured strands.


True saffron is usually graded to ISO standards and any good manufacturer or supplier should provide this information on the labeling.

Category I details
 The higher the colouring strength (crocin) the better the saffron and its other attributes: aroma (safranal) and flavour (picocrocin)


True Saffron costs considerably more than its fake counterpart. This is not surprising when it takes  stigmas of approximately 200,000 saffron flowers to produce 1kg of saffron.

Categorization & Taste

If you look at our grades of taste profiles for spices (hot, pungent, tangy, sweet & mild), the true saffron would be pungent and the fake, mild. The true saffron has a woody aroma with a slight honey taste. The fake saffron often has no taste or if it derived from safflower, a bitter sweetness.

Moral of the story:

I was once asked in a cooking class why you couldn't just buy lots of the American Saffron and use more of it instead of spending so much on the real stuff. The answer is simple: quality over quantity. It is the quality that provides the potential health benefits and superior taste.

In short, Know what you buy and why you are buying it before you buy it!