Amongst the most precious spices in the world, saffron not just adds incredible colour and flavour to food, but also has immense health benefits. Another unique aspect that distinguishes saffron from all the other spices in the world is how it is cultivated.

Saffron comes from the stigmas and styles of the Crocus sativus flower, or saffron crocus.

Are you curious to know how saffron is grown?

It has a brief harvesting window that lasts from summer to mid or late autumn. Since these flowers are extremely delicate, they need to be plucked by hand, particularly before sunrise.

Only 3-4 stigma strands can be collected from a single flower. It takes almost 16-17,000 flowers to produce one kilogram of saffron spice and almost 400 hours. This is what makes saffron worth its weight in gold.

This is why saffron is prone to adulteration and there are several spin-offs of this spice available in the market. But you don’t have to fall prey to this and worry about your money getting wasted.

Once you are done reading this article, you will have learned the easiest and yet the best ways to spot genuine saffron from the fake.

How to choose the purest saffron?

Before buying saffron and investing your precious money in it, you need to ask yourself what could go wrong with your purchase. The saffron that you have brought may be fake. Or, it may be genuine but adulterated with other ingredients. It may also be something entirely else marketed as saffron. For instance, it could be corn silk threads or coconut filaments passed off as saffron.

To ensure that you are buying the real deal, here are some questions that you should ask yourself:

What does its appearance say?

Pure saffron has evenly-sized and very fine threads. If the threads are broken into smaller pieces inside the package, then you’re looking at fake saffron. Also, these threads have a trumpet-like flute on one end. These threads must never be soft and sticky. Instead, pure saffron is dry and brittle.

What does its colour tell?

Another important thing that lets you check genuine saffron is its colour. Before being dried and sold, saffron is separated from the styles. Fresh saffron will always have a rich and vivid red colour. The yellow strands that you may have seen, called styles, are not a part of the saffron thread.

Buying saffron threads with yellow styles means that you are paying extra for additional weight, without it being real saffron in the first place.

However, some amount of yellow may actually be good. This also indicates that the saffron is pure. Completely red saffron, with an artificial hue, may probably mean that the supplier has dyed the threads carefully to help them achieve the red colour. It may also be done to cover up the low quality or impurities in the saffron.

Strands or Powder: What To Choose?

Saffron is usually found in two forms- threads and powder. While saffron threads are the dried stigmas, their powder is made by drying and grinding these threads into a powder. Just like any other spice, drying saffron without using the proper techniques and adequate amount of heat will reduce its nutritional value.

Also, while it is easy to sift through saffron threads and assess their quality, the same is nearly impossible when you have saffron powder. The saffron powder may be adulterated with coloured and dried spices such as turmeric and paprika.

However, if you still wish to buy powdered saffron, make sure that you purchase it from a credible seller. Also, look for the colour. It should be a deep red and not yellowish. Taste it if you can. Pure saffron will taste slightly bitter. Fake saffron almost always has a sweet tinge of taste to it.

This signature saffron aroma is a result of the two chemicals present in saffron- safranal and picrocrocin.

How is the aroma?

The aroma of pure saffron is pretty interesting. It is often described by experts as a mix of the fragrance of grass and hay with that of honey. Combining these two, the aroma of saffron can be said to be earthy and sweet.

However, this aroma is not entirely sweet. So, if the saffron that you are about to buy has a sickly and overpowering sweet fragrance, maybe you are looking at fake saffron that’s been dressed up.

What does the saffron taste like?

While saffron has a unique sweetness to its aroma, the same doesn’t apply to its taste. Contrary to popular notions and the way saffron is often depicted in advertisements, saffron does not taste sweet. One of the best ways to know if what you are buying is pure is by doing a saffron test for its taste.

Pure saffron has a distinct taste that can alternate between warm, bitter, sea-salt-like, spicy, rustic, and even milky. We have mentioned such a huge range of tastes because everyone experiences a different taste of saffron.

If your saffron tastes sweet, candy-like, and gooey, it is probably fake.

kashmir saffron

What about the grading?

As the most expensive and precious spice in the world, saffron is often a target of adulteration for suppliers to make a quick buck. This is precisely the reason why saffron has stringent quality guidelines laid down by ISO (International Organization for Standardization).

Saffron is graded based on three parameters, namely its aroma, colour, and flavor. The higher the ranking of these three factors, the better the saffron quality. The exclusive ISO grading for saffron is ISO 3632. Some of the best names when it comes to saffron production include:

  • Persian saffron: Sargol, Dasteh, Pushal
  • Spanish saffron: Cupe, Mancha, Rio, Sierra
  • Saffron India origin: Mogra saffron and Lacha.
  • Greek saffron: Red Saffron

Is it the right type?

As mentioned earlier, there are several saffron-producing countries around the world. These include Italy, Greece, Persia, Spain, and of course, India. While different saffron produced by these countries differ in their taste, aroma, and fragrance, some people love Kashmiri saffron for its long threads and the rich aroma and flavour that it lends to the dishes that it is added to.

The bottom line

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. Before spending money on it, you need to know if it is genuine or fake. These easy and practical ideas will help you do just that and gain the actual Kashmir saffron benefits.

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