The Consumer’s Guide to Buying Authentic Saffron

Authentic Saffron

With prices ranging from $2,000 to $10,000 a pound, saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the market. If you’re looking to buy authentic saffron, you should be able to tell which one’s the real deal. In this article, you’ll be able to:

  • Learn the different types of saffron
  • Tell authentic saffron from fake ones
  • Learn tips and tricks when buying saffron.

4 Different Types of Saffron

Saffron is taken from the Crocus sativus flower (a.k.a, the “saffron crocus”). A saffron’s overall quality will depend on the part of the flower used to produce the spice. Additionally, saffron grading is regulated by the International Organization of Standardardization. The ISO 3632 is organization sets the international standards for saffron quality, grading it based on color, flavor, and other factors. With that in mind, here are the different types of saffron currently sold in the market:

Negin

This type of saffron is produced by combining three stigma threads of the Crocus sativus flower to form a cluster. This process takes extremely delicate and precise manual skill, making Negin saffron the most expensive type of saffron, with limited products being offered in stores. The ISO grading for Negin saffron is A+ or 1.

Sargol

Meanwhile, Sargol saffron is produced using only the dark red stigma tips of the saffron crocus. With its high purity and unbroken strands, it has an ISO grade of A or 2, making it the highest grade saffron that’s commonly available and easy to buy. A notable example of this saffron is Afghanistan’s Sargol, which is praised for its very strong aroma and rich color.

Pushal

Also known as Mancha, Pushal saffron is made from dark red tips as well as the orange part of the Crocus sativus flower’s stigma. While it isn’t the same as Sargol`s pure texture, the quality is still good and a lot of consumers prefer it over Sargol. The ISO grading for Pushal saffron is B or 3.

Khooshe

With an ISO grade of C or 4, Khooshe or Bunch saffron has a relatively lower grade than the ones mentioned above. This type of saffron is made from the red stigmatas and a large amount of yellow styles from the Crocus sativus flower.

Real Vs Fake Saffron

With so many benefits to offer, more and more people are beginning to buy saffron. Unfortunately, this demand gave way to many sellers offering fake saffrons and passing them off as authentic. Luckily, there are simple ways to tell real saffron from fake ones.

Check the Color and Shape

Saffron is one of the spices you can appraise based on appearance. Authentic saffrons usually come in shades of deep red, with little to no yellow in between. Scammers usually try to replicate this by dyeing some flower stigmas and styles red, then passing them off as Negin saffron (which is the rarest of them all). This results in the fake saffron looking thicker and heavier compared to a real Negin saffron. The dye also leaves a sticky residue, so be sure to check if the strings you bought are stuck together or not.

Real saffron also comes with trumpet-shaped threads that are bulging at one end. If the ones you purchased don’t have these traits, then it’s safe to assume that you have been duped into buying fake ones.

Note Its Taste and Smell

Scammers fool customers by saying saffron tastes sweet. However, while experts do agree that it is sweet to some degree, high-quality authentic saffron has a stronger earthy and bitter ring to it. The sweetness of fake saffron is likely due to the sellers adding sugar or some additives to the threads.

Additionally, authentic saffron has a metallic honey fragrance because it contains phytochemicals, such as picrocrocin and safranal. Connoisseurs have also noted that its aroma has grassy or hay-like notes.

Give It the Cold Water or Hot Milk Test

Aside from looking, smelling, and tasting saffron, there are other means to tell whether it’s authentic or not. 

One of these is the Cold Water Test. Put a few saffron threads in a bowl of cold water, and let it sit for up to one hour. Authentic saffron will not break and retain its natural deep red color, while dyeing the water’s color red slowly (it takes around 15 minutes). In contrast, artificial saffron will dye the water almost immediately, and the threads will soon crumble and lose its red color.

Alternatively, you can try the Milk Test instead. The procedure is similar to the Cold Water Test, only you use hot milk instead of cold water. If the milk becomes golden, then the saffron is real. But if its color is richer (and the threads have become discolored), then it’s fake.

Try the Baking Soda Test

Or you can try the Baking Soda Test. In a bowl, put a few saffron threads alongside a cup or two of baking soda, then pour water in the mix. The saffron is authentic if the mixture turns yellow after an hour. If it doesn’t, then it might be fake.

Rub It Between Your Fingers

For good measure, take out some of the saffron threads you put in the bowl and rub them between your fingers for a few minutes. If the strings hold their shape and don’t break apart, then the saffron is legit. 

Tips to Remember While Buying Saffron

Now that you know the different types of saffron, as well as how to tell real saffron from fake ones, time to go to the nearest spice store or supermarket to buy saffron. But be sure to keep the following factoring in mind:

Price

Saffron can be costly and its price can also depend on the cut. If you come across any saffron that’s sold at prices lower than the international market ones, you might need to test it to see if it’s real or fake.

Packaging

As mentioned above, scammers have the tendency to dye flower stigmas to pass them off as saffron, resulting in products that are stuck together. So check the packaging closely. If the saffron threads are dry, then you’re good to go. If it’s mushy and sticky, then move on to the next product. Also, check if the threads are uniform in size. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re dealing with fake saffron, but it definitely indicates the packaging’s quality.

Safflower

From afar, safflower looks pretty much the same as saffron. But safflower is not saffron! The former is a thistle-like annual plant from the sunflower family Asteraceae. And while it has many wonderful virtues, its characteristics and properties are wholly different from saffron. So learn how to tell these two spices apart.

Shape

Check if the saffron being offered has distinct trumpet-shaped threads. If you notice any threads that have a different shape (or there are too many broken pieces), then find another product. 

Color

You’ll get tired of hearing this, but always check the color of the saffron being offered. Authentic ones have a vivid red color, with a few orange or yellow tips. If the red is somewhat dull, then that means the stock is just old. But if it looks too bright (or the coloring is somewhat uneven), then it’s probably artificial saffron.

Scent

Check if the saffron in front of you has a musty or chemical-like smell. If it does, then don’t buy it. As mentioned above, authentic saffron has a natural metallic honey fragrance with grassy or hay-like notes.

Stick With the Best Authentic Saffron Money Can Buy

Saffron may be an expensive spice to buy, but it’s definitely worth every cent. So better add it to your list of spices if you haven’t yet. Through the guide above, you can make sure you get your money’s worth. So best read it first before you head to the store and buy saffron.

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