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Saffron dye, is it still a thing?



Saffron is known for many benefits in medicine from making your heart happy and your mind bright in addition to regulating your blood sugar and cholesterol. It is also packed with antioxidants that help your immune system in clearing excess free radicals.
Saffron is also loved in culinary arts for inducing exotic aroma and distinct bitter taste in foods and drinks but it also causes a unique golden yellow color that is not limited to culinary arts!
Saffron has been used historically in carpet and textile industry in addition to traditional arts and crafts dating back to Persian Achaemenid Empire where the immortal warriors wore armors colored by saffron. The best Persian carpet artists also used saffron to create variety of colors while painters applied it on the paper to create the world famous miniatures. Buddhist robes also got their unique orange color from saffron. But is saffron still used for dyeing purposes?
In this article, we will find the answer by investigating saffron use in textile and carpet industry along with arts and crafts.

Modern research on Saffron as an effective dyeing agent

The interest in natural resources is growing exponentially and textile industry is no exception. Dyes extracted from natural sources are biodegradable and highly compatible with the environment. They are also non-toxic and non-allergen to humans as well as the whole ecosystem compared to synthetic dyes.
There is a natural dye made from saffron stigma called “CI Natural Yellow 6” which gets its coloring property from a water-soluble carotenoid called Crocin (C44H64024).
A large study has been done in Greece on technological applications of saffron in many industries including textile. The purpose was to investigate the dyeing and fastness properties of saffron on cotton and wool with and without mordants which are the preferred substrates for natural dyes. CIE L *C*H* color system was used to evaluate the results. The study showed that aqueous extraction of saffron causes a yellow dye with medium wash fastness on wool and poor wash fastness on cotton. However, the results can improve by treatment with metal salts before dyeing. In contrast, the light fastness of saffron dye is medium on cotton but poor on wool. Again, the presence of iron sulphate mordant can cause improvements in both fabrics but it might lead to darkening and dulling of the yellow color.
In another study, researchers aimed to use saffron petals for dyeing pashmina wool which is one of the most expensive and delicate fabrics that requires special treatment. If you have been following our articles, you know that saffron spice is obtained from delicate flowers of Crocus Sativus plant of Iridaceae family. The flower has violet petals and 3 scarlet red stigmas. The latter are plucked and dried but the petals are often discarded which is a huge waste!
In this study, the petals were dried and ground and then the natural dye was extracted by aqueous method at boiling conditions. The result was a satisfactory dark yellow color along with antimicrobial property against Staphylococcus aureus. The petals contain anthocyanidin and flavonols such as kaemferol. The success of this study proves the value of saffron in textile industry due to waste utilization, eco-friendliness and hygiene.
Similar study was conducted in Iran for carpet industry where wool piles were subject to dye extract of saffron petals. The carpet industry in Iran is as old as it can get and natural dyes have always been preferred. Saffron stigmas are common colorants of the piles in the most expensive handcrafted silk carpets but petals were never used in large scale. The study proved that the use of saffron petals for dyeing carpet piles is not only an economic advantage but also a very sustainable and green method.
In another study done in Iran, color fastness properties of Saffron was evaluated in paper dyeing process according to historical treatises for restoration of manuscripts. Three different types of papers were dyed with saffron based on different instructions. Ageing process was done based on ISIRI 20283 in Xenon container and changes in color, fiber morphology and cellulose degradation were compared before and after ageing. The study showed that direct dyeing method was more appropriate and saffron does not cause any oxidation in papers. Color fastness in meta-mordanting method was also more stable than pre-mordanting method where the type of paper can affect the color fastness.

Conclusion

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world for good reasons and every new research reveals another aspect of this multi-functional spice.
It is famous for a distinctive yellow color in Spanish Paella, Italian Milanese Risotto, French Bouillabaisse, Greek rice pilaf and Indian Biryani not to mention the world famous Persian rice and traditional ice cream but it is not limited to them!
It is used for dyeing fabrics and piles in many countries both with traditional methods and modern technology. It can yield varying degrees of yellow color in cotton, wool and pashmina with satisfactory stableness. It is also used in restoration of historical manuscripts as well as creating new paintings.
Persian saffron in its homeland has been used for thousands of years for dyeing purposes of clothing fabrics, carpet wool piles, paper coloration and paint in miniature arts. Traditionally it was the preferred coloring agent for yellow, gold and green and it was even used to prevent discoloration of other pigments and rusting of the paper but industrialization and advancement in technology introduced many synthetic alternatives. However, not everyone has accepted the modern alternatives and many of the grand masters in different fields of arts and crafts still use saffron as coloring agent which results in mesmerizing silk carpets and miniature paintings that are coveted in the world.
Iranian saffron is a precious gift from earth and Iranians have been using it to create precious arts and crafts, many of which are kept in world famous museums! With the rise in awareness of environmental impact of synthetic dyes and the damage they can cause to humans and other beings, using saffron as an eco-friendly dyeing agent in textile and carpet industries in addition to arts and crafts can help the ecosystem heal.