Saffron fakes and substitutes

The fact that saffron is partly as expensive as gold has always led people to bring fakes onto the market. In order to get really good and, above all, high-quality, genuine saffron, you should exercise caution when shopping!
That is why it is the best to always buy saffron in threads, because this is the only way you can see whether it is really the threads of the real crocus. Ground “saffron” can be turmeric, which also turns yellow, but does not contain any typical saffron aroma. Or it consists of an inferior mixture of portions of real saffron, which have also been diluted with turmeric.
However, when shopping, also look very closely at the threads – are they really threads, or rather curled leaves? The latter points to the “false saffron” – the petals of the safflower!
Although this fake also turns yellow, it does not have the beautiful aroma of saffron.
A trustworthy way in which you can be sure that the saffron is original or not is to test it with baking soda and water. As a matter of fact, real saffron turns yellow, while a fake turns the water a dull red! Thus you can recognize which one is real and original one.
Another method of counterfeiting saffron is the so-called counterfeiting of origin.
Saffron is the world’s most expensive agricultural product – good quality saffron costs around €15-20 per gram, the same as 25kg of wheat flour in the same supermarket.
The authentic and precious spice saffron is part of the Crocus Sativus flower, commonly known as the “saffron crocus”. Saffron crocus grows to 20-30 cm tall and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigmas. The styles and stigmas, called threads, are collected and dried to be used primarily as a flavoring and coloring agent in food. About 200,000 saffron flowers are needed to produce 1 kg of saffron spice. This very labor-intensive process thus answers the question as to why the production of this spice is so expensive.

However, there are a few ways and clues to tell if saffron is real or fake: taste, smell, appearance and price.

1. Taste
Saffron (in threads or ground) never tastes sweet. If it does, you have surely bought a fake. Real saffron has a bitter and slightly dry taste when placed on the tongue.

2. Smell
Another quality is the aroma. Saffron has a very strong smell. While fake saffron has almost no aroma, the tiniest amount of real saffron will have a distinctive and intense smell. To identify the aroma, you must first know what real saffron smells like. The real saffron aroma can be described as a mixture of earth, tobacco, vanilla, honey and salty sweet. Just remember this rule: the smell of real saffron is always sweet, but the taste is never.

3. Appearance
Real saffron also has a special appearance: the coloring is unique and the threads have a funnel-shaped end at the top. Real saffron does not lose its original color when placed in a little water. Only genuine saffron will retain its original color when the thread is removed from the water. The fake one will have completely lost its new color and will no longer look the same. The water with the pure saffron turns honey yellow; that of the wrong turns dark red. If you rub the saffron threads between wet fingers, your fingers will turn red/gold/orange.

4. Price
If the saffron is cheaper than 10 euros per gram, it is very likely a fake. Also, never buy ground saffron! Far too often it’s sliced with turmeric, paprika, and the aforementioned bark. Even if sold by a good spice dealer, saffron powder loses its flavor much faster than whole threads.

Because of its popularity and high price, saffron has always been and continues to be counterfeited. It is therefore particularly important to pay attention to quality. But how do you tell good quality from bad quality?
Only buy saffron tips/threads. The aroma and taste last better and you can easily check the authenticity and purity of the saffron by eye.

– Deep red color
Good saffron tips are deep red to purple. The redder the threads, the better the quality. A brownish color is an indication of high temperature dried, old or improperly stored saffron.

– Typical smell
If you are familiar with saffron, you can also tell if it is saffron by smelling it. Saffron smells tart, earthy, leathery and smoky and reminiscent of medicine (dentist). The aroma is often described as smelling of hay to honey. However, saffron is steamed with essential oils, for example, and roasted saffron smells more like smoke than the other aroma components.

– No stigmata
The saffron tips should be flared at the top. They should also have a finely notched hem, 3 to 4 millimeters wide, with a short slit on the inside. This is formed by the so-called papillae. Cylindrical threads are a sign that the saffron has been stretched with parts of foreign flowers or other fibers. Best quality should not have any – not even small – yellow parts (stigmata). The stigmata have not only no color but also no taste and no aroma. They therefore reduce the quality of the saffron tips.

– Saliva and baking soda sample
Another indication of the authenticity of saffron is the saliva, which turns orange-yellow when chewed. The yellow dye also dissolves immediately if you wet a thread with a little water in your hand. Caution: Fake saffron is often colored. If you add baking soda, the solution must stay yellow if it’s real saffron. If it contains parts of turmeric (turmeric), the solution becomes cloudy and turns red.

How do you define “good” quality?
Saffron can be bought in different qualities on the market. The 1st quality is the so-called pharmacopoeia goods.
This is also known as Crócus electus or golden Saffron. This product must not contain any stylus parts. The 2nd quality is called Crócus naturalis or organic saffron. Here, up to ten percent stylus parts may be included. In almost all producing countries there are country-specific designations for the different saffron qualities.

Powdered saffron is more difficult to test for purity than saffron threads. This can only be done well with a microscope. This is not the only reason why you should prefer threads when buying, but also because ground saffron loses its aroma more quickly. If saffron tips are stored dark, dry and tightly closed, they retain their unique properties and mesmerizing aroma for about three, four, five years from harvest.

Saffron is known to be the most expensive spice in the world. Then as now, it is a symbol of love and exclusivity. To keep you fully informed, we have listed five things you need to know about the spice saffron below.
The main component of saffron is crocin. This gives the saffron its natural yellow to orange-red color. It is also the main indicator for measuring quality. If the crocin value is above 260, it is a saffron of the highest quality.
Saffron is a very delicate spice. Even the flower, Crocus sativa, withers the first day it blooms. For this reason, the harvest workers go to the saffron plantation early in the morning to pick the delicate blossoms before they perish under the sun.

The situation is similar with the saffron threads, which are used for seasoning. These must be protected from direct sunlight. If you protect them from light and moisture, the saffron spice can be kept fresh for up to 3 years.
The good news is that you basically cannot go wrong with saffron. You can add saffron to your dish in the form of threads or in ground form. Both forms are ideal for seasoning your favorite food.
You don’t have to worry about which dish saffron goes best with, because the exquisite spice is the joker for every kitchen. It brings out the flavors of the other ingredients and goes just as well with savory dishes as with sweets.
Saffron makes something special out of everything. It doesn’t matter whether you buy the saffron spice as threads or as a powder, the quality does not suffer. However, you can more easily check the quality of the saffron when it is still in its original form. The coloring effect of the saffron unfolds best if the saffron threads are ground before use.
If you add the spice at the beginning of the preparation, for example with a paella, the yellowish color of the dish is intensified. Choosing to add the popular spice at the end will bring out the natural aroma of the plant.
As a rule, a sachet with 100mg of saffron is enough to serve four people. A meal for one person requires at most of a small level teaspoon to develop its full aroma.

In the case of saffron, less is more. If you add too much of the intense spice, the flavor of the food will be spoiled and the dish will become inedible. Health damage can occur if the dose is too high. However, that probably applies to every spice in the world. Even a certain amount of salt can have serious effects. As everywhere, the same applies to saffron: only the dose makes the poison.
Saffron is grown in many different countries around the world. The spice loves dry and cold winters as well as hot summers.

That is why saffron is grown in mainly Iran. Iran is the main supplier of the saffron spice with around 90%. The quality is the highest there and the saffron threads are deep red and have a wonderful aroma.
Depending on the origin, the color and aroma of the most expensive spice in the world differs. Paradoxically, Iranian saffron is considered the highest quality, but not the most expensive saffron.