Almost always referred to as “local saffron”, kasubha is almost certainly NEITHER. Kasubha (carthamus tinctorius) is used mainly to color dishes and it is accompanied by an ever so slight flavor/fragrance that is almost irrelevant, depending on its use. Personally, I like it when a restaurant brings a dish with a pile of pale acharra, a sign that it is made relatively fresh and without artificial coloring. I don’t cook my acharra, FYI. But the fact remains that 90+% of diners prefer or are bamboozled by color (hence the popularity of yellow rice that is mostly made with food coloring rather than turmeric, or pile on the most outrageously icky vegetable oil as long as it is colored with achuete) so they think a pale acharra isn’t a good acharra. Go figure.
We make tonnes of acharra every month. And since we started our restaurant, we have used kasubha to help naturally color our papaya pickles and formerly to add color to our arroz caldo. I always assumed it was a locally sourced ingredient (as you would think most tinapang galunggong is locally caught, but it’s not…) and I had visions of helping local folks who raised safflowers and dried the flowers and sold them seasonally, hence they often disappeared from market shelves at certain times of the year. Banish the thought. BANISH IT. These are most likely imported, possibly from China, maybe as far as India or Kazakstan, for all I know. At any rate, old habits and recipes die hard, so we still need to keep the ingredient in stock. The last time I found it in bulk, I bought enough to last over a year (storing it vacuum packed containers in the freezer). And that stockpile was running low. So I headed to Divisoria the other day and visited a spice store I first discovered over 20 years ago. I forgot about it until a reader (OB Kwin) mentioned it a few posts back, so I am doing this post for the odd reader or two who MUST have kasubha and just can’t find it in their neighborhood grocery or market.
RGSL Grocery is located at 809 Sto. Cristo St., Binondo, Manila 1006. Telephone number is 242-6247 or 241-3319. Kasubha was PHP1,000 a kilo the other day, a relative bargain, I have had to pay up to PHP2,000 per kilo for this retail or semi-retail. We bought several kilos that should be good for another 6 months or so. We got to the store just as they were opening, so I didn’t see much of their other spice offerings, but they did have Chinese dried chili flakes, peppercorns, etc.