Kasubha or Safflower


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.


6 Responses

  1. FD&C Red #4, also known as Scarlet GN, was banned as a food additive in 1960. Today it is banned in Europe; though in the US it is allowed only in externally applied drugs and cosmetics. It is not allowed in products that are applied near the eye. Despite this, Red #4 is added to Maraschino cherries. This has been happening because the US government considers the cherries decorations, not food.

    I like golden brown baked products which means they have been fully baked. Turns out there’s a high fructose corn syrup infused wash/spray they use now to achieve that effect easily and uniformly. In spite of the alarm raised by food activists against pervasive use of HFCS, I would still use that product if I were baking commercially. Other artificially coloured products such as pink pistachio or yellow Japanese pickled radish seem benign and just leave me wondering while others such as mauve or even magenda inappropriately tinted bagoong alamang and tocino actually rile me up so I simply shun them.

  2. Hi MM. I agree with footloose on any food products that are artificially colored. It just turns me off. Pink bagoong alamang! footloose did you mean magenta color? just a typo.
    I just want to thank you for the budbud kabug which were really nicely vacuum packed. I was surprised. Anyways, I almost lost them to customs as the officer was asking if anyone was bringing in rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves. Well, I did not have rice cakes, I had the kabug. Yikes. I was warned about the banana leaves earlier on. Have you heard of this? Seattle might be more strict than other ports of entry.
    Oh the budbud are really delicious. My family are just savoring them little by little. Everyone who have access to Zubuchon should buy/try it. You won’t regret it.

  3. farida, no, I had not heard about the banana leaves. Sister brings them all the time. If asked, she probably says they have been steamed for long enough to kill anything dubious. Technically, I always thought bringing in baked goods or cakes was okay, but you are correct, the banana leaves could be a potential roadblock. Another reader just ordered 200 pcs for pickup on her trip home in another month or so… I hope we are not violating any laws. :)

  4. oh, i learned something new today…i always thought kasubha grew in the neighborhood, and have always wondered how they looked in their plant form. now i know. i googled safflower, and the pictures show something I’ve never seen hereabouts. thanks, MM!

  5. Hi, MM. Yes, please let me know if she got through customs okay. I will see if I can get any info on this as I plan to bring more next time. My relatives from other States do not seem to have any problems either. Thank you.

  6. I am visiting with my brother in PhilAm , Quezon City. Where can I find your product, KASUBHA?



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