An article provided by our guest author Mark Gorissen
An exotic spice, worth almost as much as gold, no wonder there is more cheating going on in saffron than almost any other product.
Saffron is the most expensive agricultural product in the world – high quality saffron costs round 15-20 € per gram, the price of 25 kg of wheat flour at the same supermarket. The authentic and precious spice saffron is part of the flower Crocus sativus, commonly known as the “saffron crocus”. Saffron crocus grows to 20–30 cm (8–12 in) and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigmas. The styles and stigmas, called threads, are collected and dried to be used mainly as a seasoning and colouring agent in food. About 200.000 saffron flowers are required to collect 1kg of saffron spice; a very labour intensive process, so that answers the question why the spice is so expensive to produce.
Of course this high value attracts frauds who would like to earn some money by selling fake saffron. Unfortunately this is nothing new and has been going on for ages already.
There are several different types of fraud: ones is selling products that aren’t saffron and another is selling saffron as though it is produced in one country and not in another.
Frauds often sell the safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) as saffron. This is because it’s quite similar to saffron but it is a thistle-like plant, whose flowers are yellow orange. The giveaway of this plant is that it doesn’t smell like saffron at all. Furthermore there is Turmeric (Curcuma longa), known as the saffron of the Indies, belonging to the family Zingiberaceae (Ginger); from the rhizome of turmeric you get the yellow turmeric powder, a spice widely used in Indian and Asian cuisine in general, and curcumin, a yellow substance worked in the laundry and in chemistry. At last it should definitely not be confused with the colchicum (Colchicum autumnal). This is a poisonous plant whose flowers are like the crocus.
Other frequent falsification consists in adding to the stigmas of the crocus flower fragments from other species. Mixing real saffron with fake makes it harder to notice for those who have little knowledge about it.
There are a few key ways to tell real saffron from fake: taste, smell, look and price.
Saffron (thread/strand) never tastes sweet, If it’s sweet you surely bought the fake one. Real saffron will have a bitter and slightly astringent taste when placed on the tongue.
Then there is the aroma. Saffron has a very distinct smell. While fake saffron will have almost no aroma, the smallest amount of genuine saffron will have a characteristic and intense smell.To identify the aroma you first have to know what real saffron smells like. The real Saffron Aroma is a blend of earth, tabacco, vanilla, honey, salty sweet. Just remember this one mantra: Good saffron will always SMELL sweet and never TASTE sweet.
Genuine saffron also has a particular look about it, with a unique coloration and strands of saffron having a diffuse end. Real saffron won’t lose its original colour after you’ve put it in some water. Only the real saffron will keep its original colour when you take the thread out of the water. The fake one will have lost completely its added colour and won’t look the same anymore.The water with the pure saffron will turn honey-yellow. The fake one will turn dim red. You can also rub the saffron threads between wet fingers: they will red/gold/orange.
Never buy ground saffron. Far too often it’s cut with turmeric, paprika, and the aforementioned bark. Even if it’s from a spice merchant you trust, saffron powder loses its flavor faster than whole threads
So the 4 most common giveaways of fake saffron are:
1: Smell. Real Saffron smells sweet
2: When you rub it between your moist fingers, they turn orange/red/yellow.
3: If it’s grounded, it’s probably fake.
4: Price. When the saffron is cheaper then 10 Euros per gram it is highly likely that it’s fake.
Save yourself all the trouble. Take a look at our online-shop and get your own genuine, high-quality saffron. It was sampled by creative chefs, tested in a laboratory (with excellent results) and is being recommended by many satisfied customers! And of course you will support the producers in Afghanistan. 😉