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Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world because it has a labor-intensive production process and also it is packed with health, beauty, and youth enhancing properties that increase the demand throughout the world.
It has been considered luxury from ancient times when Persian princesses applied it as a perfume and Egyptian pharaohs poured it in bathwater. Where Romans used it in public gatherings and Indians burned it in rituals.
Saffron is derived from the Crocus Sativus L. plant of the iris family. The plant only blooms 1 month a year in the fall. Before sunrise, one bloom is picked by hand to prevent any damage by sun exposure. The next morning, another bloom will appear.
There are only 3 stigmas in each flower that will become the saffron spice and 450,000 flowers are required to make 1 kilogram of the spice! The stigmas are plucked and dried through a delicate process to preserve purity and quality. Then they are tested, packaged, and distributed. Even a small percentage of defects will lower the quality and price.
Saffron has been praised and used in folk medicine around the globe for its healing power in numerous health conditions. Depression, heart disease, digestive issues, diabetes, and hypertension are among the many problems that are targeted by this spice. The beauty and longevity of the skin and hair are also affected by its strong chemical profile. Mood and happiness are influenced by the positive effect of saffron.
In recent years, the scientific community has been trying to prove and quantify these effects through scientific methods and results have been promising. Saffron is full of antioxidants that are potent compounds in scavenging the body and targeting free radicals. In modern medicine, inflammation is identified as the cause of all health complications that is caused by oxidants and saffron is able to lower oxidative stress by a great degree.
Because of all its delicacy and potency, saffron is expensive and highly demanded and like any other high price luxury, it is susceptible to fraudulent practices. So the real question is how would you know if your saffron is real or fake?!
In this article, we will explore the ways saffron can be adulterated and recommend the ways you can find it out by yourself.
Adulteration of saffron is nothing new as it dates back to the middle ages in Europe when the death penalty was the punishment for offenders. The organic and inorganic matter was used for this purpose but the main adulterant was other parts of the plant itself. Stamens of the flower were used to fake the stigmas but other plant-derived adulterants such as safflower, calendula, poppy, onion skin, gardenia, maize, Buddleja, and more commonly turmeric were used. Even oil and honey were added to fake the spice.
With advances in science and technology, synthetic dyes such as tartrazine, methyl orange, erythrosine, and eosin were also used. The adulteration is made easier in-ground saffron but full stigmas can be easily dyed as well.
There is a global standard defined by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) which examines the color, aroma, and flavor strength of saffron by UV-Vis spectrophotometric analysis. It quantifies the concentration of 3 main compounds Crocin, Safranal, and Picrocrocin.
New scientific methods are also proposed to evaluate adulterated saffron. DRIFTS techniques are employed with 99% accuracy in the classification of pure spice. A non-targeted approach based on the combination of the HS-GC-FID method and chemometrics is also used to test turmeric (Curcuma longa L.) and marigold (Calendula officinalis L.) adulterants. The results have shown functional ability in rapid and low-cost screening for the identification of adulterated saffron.
But you can identify pure saffron at home by just paying attention to its unique characteristics:
• Look: authentic saffron has tall stigmas with no sign of defects. It has crimson red stigmas that are slightly brighter on the tips. If your filaments are red all the way to the top, it is likely fake.
• Touch: the stigmas are dried to the touch and will crack but not dissolve. If it is oily between your fingers without any noticeable powder left, most probably it is fake.
• Coloring: pure saffron releases a strong golden yellow color after 15 minutes when mixed with hot water. If your spice is yellowish immediately even in cold water, the chances are …it is fake.
• Aroma: the dried stigmas have strong earthy and honey notes. In contact with hot water, the smell fills the whole space but fake spice has no aroma.
• Taste: real saffron is bitter. So if your spice tastes sweet, it is probably fake.
• Price: saffron is expensive by all means so if you are offered a low price, it is certainly fake. However, a high price tag doesn’t guarantee its authenticity!
It is always recommended to buy saffron in full stigma and avoid powdered form because it is easily mixed with other chemicals that only resemble saffron.
Saffron is a precious commodity that has real health, beauty, and longevity effects but it also has big budget effect! That is why adulterated saffron is found everywhere in the global market. Identifying fake saffron is hard and requires experience which of course you can gain by using it more often.
But in order to have certainty and peace of mind about the authenticity of your saffron, you should buy from reliable sources. The brands that have been in the business for so long that their reputation precedes them, the companies that only care about quality products and put the customer first, the entrepreneurs that are involved in the fair trade of saffron. Buy from a reputable Persian saffron brand and reap all the health, beauty, and longevity benefits of pure Iranian saffron.
Persian Saffron is the best in the world because it has the highest quality and authenticity.