Characteristics of Quality Saffron

Fresh Saffron Flower

Saffron Basics

Saffron is the stigmas (red threads) of the saffron crocus; Crocus sativus

The worlds most expensive spice, it has been continuously cultivated and used for over 3000 years in culinary, medicinal, perfume, beauty and textile applications.

Saffron crocus are harvested at first dawn mid Oct-Nov annually. To produce quality saffron, it must be processed the same day. Threads or stigmas are carefully separated from the crocus, dried immediately, then sealed and stored in airtight containers away from light and heat.

It is a laborious process done entirely by hand, with entire families directly involved in saffron farming and processing for many generations. The saffron harvest is vital to the people of this region, and their livelihood.

~150,000 saffron flowers/500,000 stigmas (threads) produce 1.0 kg dried saffron.

Saffron Source Locations

Source: Location, Location, Location

The North East Iran region, in particular Khorasan Razavi Province, remains the historical and modern centre of saffron cultivation globally. An estimated 100,000 plus hectares produce ~ 95% of the world’s annual saffron; >350T. Iran exports ~ 85% of it’s annual saffron production, primarily in bulk formats to other countries.

Persian saffron from this region is consistently the highest quality saffron in the world. Scientific studies confirm the superior actives’ composition profiles inherent in the saffron grown here. A very nice Persian Saffron video from National Geographic

Ongoing geo-political pressures create “inflated” claims as to saffron production sources; notably Spain, Italy and recently Afghanistan. If you are seeking quality saffron, it likely originates from Khorasan, or in very close proximity and bordering regions. Spain produces less than 4 T annually, yet imports and re-exports 40-50% of Iran’s bulk saffron production annually. France and Italy are also major import destinations, as is the UAE, which imports and re-exports ~ 80 T annually, with absolutely no domestic production. To learn more about the extent of adulteration and saffron sourcing issues, please read our Article about Saffron Fraud.

Saffron Threads

Composition – Key Ingredients

Saffron contains over 100 well analyzed actives. The three most studied and characterized are:

α-Crocin – hydrophilic carotenoids of crocetin which are responsible for saffron’s golden yellow-orange colour and may comprise up to 10% saffron’s dry mass.

Picrocrocin responsible for saffron’s somewhat bitter flavour and may comprise up to 4% of dry saffron, As saffron dries or is heated, picrocrocin is coverted to Glucose and free Safranal.

Safranal the major (70%) volatile oil that gives saffron much of its distinctive aroma.

Saffron is extremely sensitive to changes in pH, and it breaks down very rapidly when oxidized (air) or exposed to light. For maximum saffron quality it is important for the saffron to be stored in air-tight containers, minimizing contact with atmospheric oxygen and light.

Saffron Formats

Bunch (Abusheybai, Dasteh)

Bunch (Abusheybai, Dasteh)

“Bunch” saffron is red stigmas plus large amount of yellow style, presented in tiny bundles often tied.

Pushali (Poushali)

Pushali (Poushali)

Red stigmas plus some yellow style; sometimes joined 2 or 3 at style, lower strengths, floral waste.

Sargol (Zargol)

Sargol (Zargol)

Red stigma tips only. Often marketed as the most valuable saffron format, but not true. (Negin, NIS) is the highest quality format.

Red Stigmas

Negin, Super Negin – Paradis Saffron

Negin – all red stigmas.
(Super Negin) Paradis – fullest all red, long thread; most luxurious grade – extensive processing requirements.

Grades of Saffron

There are 12 national standards regarding our saffron, in addition to the third party International Standards Organization (ISO) 3632 Standards pertaining to Saffron; which classifies Saffron into four primary classifications of Quality.

There is also a current effort towards the establishment of an International WHO CODEX standard for saffron, due to ongoing issues with quality saffron authenticity and it’s true origins.

Paradis Saffron; both thread and liquid, is the very best Grade One Persian Saffron.

International Standards Organization: ISO 3632 Saffron  

ISO 3632 SaffronGrade IGrade IIGrade IIIGrade IV
Crocin OD (440nm) (min.)>190>150>110>80
Safranal OD (330nm) (min.-max.)20-5020-5020-5020-50
Picrocrocin OD (257nm) (min.)>70554030
Moisture % (Max.)<10<12<12<12
Style Floral waste % (Max.)<0.54710
Persian DescriptionSargol, NIS/NeginSargol Grades IIPushali GradesPushali Grades
Spanish DescriptionCoupeManchaRioStandard, Sierra

Truth About Saffron

Saffron Flower

Educational Series – The Truth About Saffron

In the Fall 2018 I traveled to the ancient saffron fields and participated in the Saffron Harvest. We will be releasing an Educational Series in coming months, that will take you on that journey with me.

In the interim, please enjoy an informative video we released previously about Saffron.