The Best, Highest Quality Saffron
Not all saffron products are created equal. Premium quality saffron has certain characteristics; keep the following information in mind to distinguish high quality saffron from lower quality imitations.
Characteristics of the best, highest quality saffron
Saffron is the stigmas (red threads) of the saffron crocus- known as Crocus sativus.
It is one of the most expensive spice in the world and has been continuously cultivated and used for over 3,000 years in culinary, medicine, perfume, beauty and textile applications.
Saffron crocus is harvested at first dawn every year between mid-October and November and must be processed the same day in order to produce the best highest quality saffron. The saffron thread is 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 completely 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.
Fun fact: It takes 150,000 saffron flowers or 500,000 stigmas to produce only 1.0 kg of dried saffron.
Source: Location, Location, Location
When determining where to buy saffron, location matters.
The North-East Iran region (particularly the Khorasan Razavi Province) remains the historical and modern center for saffron cultivation globally. An estimated 100,000 plus hectares produces nearly 95% of the world’s annual saffron, which equates to over 350 tons. Iran exports approximately 85% of its 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 quality of saffron grown here. To learn more, here’s an incredible Persian Saffron video from National Geographic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfUrLteNu8E
Ongoing geo-political pressures create “inflated” claims as to saffron production sources; notably Spain, Italy, and recently Afghanistan. If you are seeking the best, highest-quality saffron, it likely originates from Khorasan or places in very close proximity and bordering regions. Spain produces less than 4 tons annually, yet imports and re-exports 40-50% of Iran’s bulk saffron production. France and Italy are also major import destinations, as is the UAE, which imports and re-exports roughly 80 tons 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.
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% of 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 converted 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. To achieve maximum saffron quality, the saffron needs to be stored in air-tight containers, minimizing contact with atmospheric oxygen and light.
Bunch (Abusheybai, Dasteh)
“Bunch” saffron is red stigmas plus large amounts of yellow style, presented in tiny bundles that are often tied together.
Red stigmas plus some yellow style; sometimes joined 2 or 3 at style, lower strengths, floral waste.
Red stigma tips only. Often marketed as the most valuable saffron format, but this is not true. Negin (NIS) is the highest quality format.
Negin, Super Negin – Paradis Saffron
Negin – all red stigmas.
(Super Negin) Paradis – fullest all red, long thread; most luxurious grade – extensive processing requirements.
Fun fact: one way to identify real saffron spice apart from fake versions is by putting the threads in water. After a few minutes, pure saffron threads will turn the water yellow while retaining their originaldeep red color; this is not the case with counterfeit spices. In addition, rubbing the threads between your fingers will turn your skin that unique redsaffron color, which can also be a red-gold hue.
Grades of Saffron
There are 12 national standards for saffron. This is in addition to the third party International Standards Organization (ISO) 3632 Standards, pertaining to saffron; which classifies saffron into 4 primary classifications of quality.
Currently, there are also efforts to establish an International WHO CODEX standard for saffron, due to ongoing issues with quality saffron authenticity and its true origins.
Paradis Saffron, both thread and liquid, is the very best Grade One Persian Saffron.
International Standards Organization: ISO 3632 Saffron
|ISO 3632 Saffron||Grade I||Grade II||Grade III||Grade IV|
|Crocin OD (440nm) (min.)||>190||>150||>110||>80|
|Safranal OD (330nm) (min.-max.)||20-50||20-50||20-50||20-50|
|Picrocrocin OD (257nm) (min.)||>70||55||40||30|
|Moisture % (Max.)||<10||<12||<12||<12|
|Style Floral waste % (Max.)||<0.5||4||7||10|
|Persian Description||Sargol, NIS/Negin||Sargol Grades II||Pushali Grades||Pushali Grades|
|Spanish Description||Coupe||Mancha||Rio||Standard, Sierra|
Truth About Saffron
Educational Series – The Truth About Saffron
In the Fall of 2018, I traveled to the ancient saffron fields and participated in the Saffron Harvest. We will be releasing an Educational Series in the coming months, that will take you on that journey with me.
In the meantime, please enjoy an informative video we released previously about Saffron.