Saffron crocus sativus is the world’s most expensive spice in terms of weight.
In both antiquity and modern times, mostly saffron was and is used in the preparation of food and drink. Cultures spread across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas value the red threads for use in such items as baked foods, curries, and liquor.
Saffron-based pigments have been found in 50,000 year-old depictions of prehistoric places in northwest Iran. Later, the Sumerians used wild-growing saffron in their remedies and magical potions. Saffron was an article of long-distance trade before the Minoan palace culture's 2nd millennium BC peak. Ancient Persians cultivated Persian saffron in Derbena, Isfahan, and Khorasan by the10th century BC. At such sites, saffron threads were woven into textiles, ritually offered to divinities, and used in dyes, perfumes, medicines, and body washes. Thus, saffron threads would be scattered across beds and mixed into hot teas as a curative for bouts of melancholy. Non-Persians also feared the Persians' usage of saffron as a drugging agent and aphrodisiac. During his Asian campaigns, Alexander the Great used Persian saffron in his infusions, rice, and baths as a curative for battle wounds. Alexander's troops imitated the practice from the Persians and brought saffron-bathing to Greece.
Throughout saffron’s global journeys, Persia known today as Iran has long been a significant source of high-quality saffron production and export. Saffron is the most favored spice in Iran and the main souvenir form Khorasan province, the world capital of saffron. Recent trade data from several sources indicates that Iran is the number one producer and exporter of saffron worldwide, consistently producing as much as 97% of world output.
Due to the long experience with its cultivation, and the transfer of methods of growing and harvesting from generation to generation, Iranian saffron has managed to keep its distinctive qualities in comparison with those produced in other regions of the world. See saffron grading
Saffron is the threads (stigmas) from the saffron Crocus sativus flower. There are only 3 saffron stigmas (female part) referred to as saffron threads per flower. These threads must be picked by hand so you can understand why it is so prized and expensive. Just consider how many of the feather-light stigmas you actually have to collect in your basket to reach a pound of weight. It takes 80,000 blossoms or 240,000 hand-picked saffron stigmas (almost an acre of flowers) to make a single pound (454 grams), harvesting this precious spice is a back-breaking work which explains why saffron is the world’s most expensive spice.
According to statistics in 2009 the amount of saffron production in Iran was 300 tons which constitutes 97% of the world saffron production. The Kashmir region in India produces 6 tons and has particularly high reputation, but due to India’s ban on exporting high quality saffron abroad, it is mostly dedicated to India's self-consumption and is hardly available outside India.
Greek production (5 tons) is located exclusively in Macedonia (Kozani) and controlled by a single cooperative. Azerbaijan produces 3.70 tons, Spain 1 ton, and Morocco produces 0.8 ton. Productions of Italy (Sardinia, Aquila, Cascia) 100 kg; Turkey (Davutobasi, Saffranbulli) 10 kg; France (Gâtinais, Quercy) 4/5 kg and Switzerland (Mund) 1 kg are nearly nominal. Other countries as Portugal produce negligible amounts of saffron.
Major importer countries of Iran’s saffron are The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Spain, Torkmenistan, France and Italy, and 90% of Iran’s saffron exports are in bulk.
Graders measure absorbency of 440-nm light by dry saffron samples. Higher absorbencies imply greater crocin concentration, and thus greater color intensity. These data are measured through spectrophotometer reports at certified testing laboratories worldwide. These color grades proceed from grades with absorbances as low as 80 up to 190 or greater.
|Our Sargol Iranian saffron & Spanish saffron grading standards comparison|
|Type||ISO Grade (category)||Saffron
Grading Standards by
|Flower Waste||Saffron Style|
|Coupe||I||>190||Up to 5%||-|
|Mancha||II||180-190||Up to 5%||10-15%|
|Rio||II||150-180||Up to 10%||15-20%|
|Standard||III||110-150||Up to 10%||20-25%|
|Sierra||IV||80-110||Up to 15%||25-30%|
Despite such attempts at quality control and standardization, an extensive history of saffron adulteration particularly among the cheapest grades continues into modern time. Typical methods include mixing pure saffron threads in extraneous substances like beets, pomegranate fibers, red-dyed silk fibers, or the saffron crocus's tasteless and odorless yellow stamens or turmeric to add dead weight. Saffron stamens have no culinary properties but will still add the signature yellow color of saffron. Other methods included dousing saffron fibers with viscid substances like honey or vegetable oil or by artificial colorants and by mixing genuine stigmas of saffron flower with other parts of plants (e.g. some species of grass) artificially colored.
Another method is mixing saffron threads (stigmas) with cheaper substitute like safflower (Portuguese saffron), some times referred to as “bastard saffron”, which yield a bright yellowish hue that dose not precisely match that of saffron.
Adulteration can also consist of selling mislabeled mixes of different saffron grades.
Thus, in India, high-grade Kashmir saffron is often sold and mixed with cheaper Iranian saffron imports; these mixes are then marketed as pure Kashmiri saffron, a development that has cost Kashmiri growers much of their income.*
High quality Saffron produced in Iran is exported in bulk to Spain. Then the imported Saffron is mixed and reprocessed with lower grade Spanish (La Mancha) and Portuguese saffron (safflower which is often sold as “assafroa”) before being packaged in beautiful designs. It is then re- exported as La Mancha or Mancha saffron at very higher prices to all parts of the world. Spain is producing almost 1 ton of saffron annually but is exporting 100 tons per year 20-30 tons of which to the united states alone. How could it be possible? It also explains why you would read elsewhere that “coupe” saffron is rare to find.
A grey market of saffron has developed in some countries, trading Iranian saffron through doubtful channels without any quality control.
However, powdered saffron is more prone to adulteration, with turmeric, paprika, and other powders used as diluting fillers.
* A note about Kashmiri saffron: Western countries face significant obstacles in obtaining high quality Kashmiri saffron from India. Kashmiri saffron is among the most difficult for consumers to obtain. Crop failures in Kashmir combined with an Indian export ban of high grade saffron abroad, contribute to its high price and rarity.
Saffron, yielded from the stigmas of the saffron flower, is classified, packed and presented in terms of different parts of stigma as follows:
Literally translate as “top of the flower”. The equivalent name for top quality saffron in Spanish name is coupe saffron. This kind of saffron is pure and contains the stigma without the style.
The highest quality Iranian saffron is known as “Sargol” saffron. It is made up of the red-orange thistles tips of saffron threads which have been cut and separated from style prior to drying. This enables it to retain its pure red color and results in a coloring index range of 220 to 260. Saffron stigmas cut this way provide maximum flavor, aroma and natural dye in cooking and baking. This is the part with all the saffron culinary and medicinal properties. Our Sargol saffron is 100% pure saffron. This is grade I saffron based on ISO standard. See ISO saffron grading
Mancha saffron is not cut like Sargol and therefore contains more yellow parts from the style of the plant and higher floral waste.
Mancha saffron contains saffron stigmas with 10-15% of the style and 5% flower waste. It has less power of coloring strength compare to our Sargol (cut) saffron.
Mancha saffron or La Mancha saffron is a common brand name for Spanish saffron grown in the five provinces of the La Mancha region of southeastern Spain. Based on ISO classification Manch saffron holds grade II in accordance to saffron coloring strength standards. See saffron grading & ISO grading comparison chart
Please note that the Style of the saffron plant has no culinary values. It doesn’t contain aroma, flavor and color. If it is left attached to the red stigmas, it just adds 30 - 50% dead weight to saffron and you pay for it.
See saffron drying
Saffron drying is the most important part of the saffron process. By cutting the stigmas apart and separating them from the style prior to drying them, the "moisture" will evaporate out and no moisture remains inside the saffron stigma. When you leave the stigmas attached to the style, moisture is trapped inside. By doing this the shelf life and quality of the saffron will be affected dramatically. You can notice high moisture content in saffron by the soft or spongy texture to the touch. Moist saffron will develop a musty smell instead of saffron's distinct clean aroma. Maximum moisture allowed by ISO is 12 where our Sargol saffron's moisture is as low as 5.13 and its aroma and color is distinctively pleasant. Sargol stigmas dried this way are brittle to the touch. You can crush them into powder between your fingers.
Besides you can easily crush the threads into powder for maximum color diffusion in dishes, so we recommend you to buy saffron threads (stigmas) instead of saffron powder.
Why? Take a look at the picture, could you tell which one of these powders is saffron?
We recommend that you should never use wooden utensils when preparing saffron. Wood utensils tend to absorb saffron easily, so since saffron is expensive, you don't want to waste it. The proper amount of saffron varies for each recipe and a very little bit of saffron goes a long way.
Saffron must be stored in a cool dark place. It is customary to wrap saffron in foil and place it in a tin or jar with a tight fitting lid.
Properly stored you can keep saffron for minimally 4 years. It won’t go bad but the flavor will diminish as it ages.
There are many consumers around the world that are concerned about the health risks of synthetic pesticides and food additives.
In Iran Farmers don't use Chemical material for cultivation. Our pure and natural Sargol Iranian saffron has NO synthetic pesticides, NO food additives, NO preservative substances, and NO synthetic food coloring so based on true facts, we can claim that our Sargol saffron is ORGANIC SAFFRON.
Since saffron is sold in the U.S. in many different grades from several different origins the result is subsequent fluctuation of prices. Unfortunately, saffron market is in the hands of the packers not farmers, so saffron comes into the market as a mixture of different qualities. With that being said, consumers are confused on how to get the best quality saffron at a reasonable price. Our suggestions are getting educated! You need to have a rule of thumbs when deliberating on your saffron purchases.
There are a few qualities that you must look for every time you buy saffron:
Our pure saffron is made up of tiny, bright-red threads. The tips of the threads are slightly lighter orange-red color. This indicates that it is not cheap saffron that has been tinted red to look expensive.
Saffron has been used as a seasoning, fragrance, dye, and medicine for more than 3,000 years.
The saffron uses in food industry are increasing due to its golden color, and exotic aroma. Its most common function is to color rice yellow, as in risotto Milanese, where its delicate flavor make it the most famous of Italian rice dishes. It combines well with fish and seafood, famous as a key ingredient of Persian chicken and beef kabob, Spanish paella, Mexican fiambre, Arabic lamb and chicken, Azerbaijani pakhlava, and Indian pilafs, desserts and sauces as well as French bouillabaisse. In England, saffron is probably best known for its use in Cornish saffron buns where it is paired with dried fruit in a yeast cake. It is also found in Swedish, Cornish and Pennsylvania Dutch holiday breads.
In Italy saffron's most common use is in confectionery and liquor industries such as Chartreuse, izarra, and strega. These types of alcoholic beverages rely highly on saffron to provide a flourish of color and flavor.
In Europe uses of saffron in beverages such as sodas and other drinks have been more serious nowadays.
Saffron is not only a food condiment. There are other reasons why it is so prized.
It has a long history in traditional healing and has been recently recognized for treating respiratory infections and disorders such as coughs and colds, scarlet fever, smallpox, cancer, hypoxia, and asthma. Other targets included blood circulatory disorders, insomnia, paralysis, heart diseases, stomach upsets, gout, chronic uterine haemorrhage, dysmorrhea, amenorrhea, baby colic, eye disorders, digestive stimulant, women menstrual pain, menopausal problems, and depression.
It also helps with memory loss, male impotency, encourages oxygen flow, speeds the healing of wounds, and prevents cell death.
Saffron's pharmacological effects on malignant tumors have been documented in different studies. Saffron has shown promise as a new and alternative treatment for a variety of cancers.
A growing body of laboratory evidence indicates that saffron does have anti cancer effects. This property was first described in papers by the Indian scientist S.C. Nair in 1991.
Some studies show that saffron can inhibit the growth of some types of skin cancer, as well as another type of tumor called sarcoma. Extracts of saffron have been shown to inhibit the formation of tumors and/or to retard tumor progression in a variety of experimental animal systems. Researchers found that feeding mice with a saffron extract prevented the formation of soft tissue sarcomas.
The intense orange color of saffron hints of its medicinal nature. It is particularly rich in carotenoids, which are antioxidants that protect the body from free radical damage.
Saffron’s golden orange color comes from the carotenoids and beta carotenes (precursor of vitamin A) found in carrots. Benefit of beta carotene and carotenoids is that they have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The reddish-colored zeaxanthin is one of the carotenoids naturally present within the retina of the human eye. For its zeaxanthins property, saffron is also known for reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) of the eyes.
Test findings suggest saffron spice reverses age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness in old people. Saffron affects the amount of fat stored by the eye, making vision cells tougher and more resilient.
In the relatively small quantities in which saffron is usually consumed, it seems to be a perfectly safe and harmless substance and it’s been used in cooking and medicine for centuries.
As people are being more aware of benefits of saffron on skin and saffron uses, the usage of this precious spice is now improving just because, saffron is a natural product for its aroma, and it contains removing pimples, easing rashes, and smoothing face and skin properties.