Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say it’s more expensive than gold and this is true. The reason for the high price tag is that only a tiny part of the saffron crocus flower is used, and the harvesting process is laborious and needs to be done carefully by hand.
When you’re looking to buy quality saffron and are spending your hard-earned cash on this interesting spice, you naturally want to know that you are getting the real thing and that you are purchasing good quality saffron. So, how can you tell if the saffron you’ve bought is good quality? We will look at that in this article.
What is fake saffron?
Saffron is a big business and, unfortunately in most trades, there are dishonest sellers who are trying to make money by selling fakes and this is true for the saffron industry too. Fake saffron can simply be low-quality saffron, misleadingly packaged saffron with additives or it can be completely fake.
You might wonder how you fake something like that and there are a few known ways. To make it seem like you’re getting more saffron than you are, some sellers add sprays of water which can add 10-15% more weight to the product. Saffron should not feel moist when you get it – the threads should be dry and delicate and have a fresh aroma. If your saffron feels moist, then it has most likely had water added to it.
To make fake saffron, some people use corn silk that they spray with colorings to make it look like saffron and some products contain all kinds of fillers that can be harmful to the consumer.
Fake saffron is sold at a cheaper price to lure people in but it’s a useless product that could be dangerous to consume, so there’s no point in purchasing saffron that you don’t know is the real thing. Next, well look at what real saffron looks like.
What does high quality saffron look like?
Good quality saffron has a deep red color and the threads are usually between 1.2 to 3.8 inches long. It’s best to avoid buying ground or powdered saffron as it might have been mixed with low quality saffron or other spices of the same or similar color, like turmeric or marigold.
If you want to purchase quality saffron, you need to find a reputable, registered and trustworthy seller who can provide you with a high quality product and answer any questions you might have about the origin of the saffron and provide test reports if needed.
High quality saffron usually comes in small and airtight packaging to protect the spice. If it’s sold in a big bag and seems cheap, then it’s probably not the real thing!
Home tests to identify genuine saffron
Once you have your saffron at home, there are a few things that you can do to see if it’s real saffron:
Taste & Smell Test
If you’ve had saffron before, a simple taste and smell test might be enough to tell you if the saffron you have purchased is real. Smell the saffron – does it have that very distinct aroma that you’re expecting? Take a thread and put it in your mouth – what does it taste like?
Some experts say that saffron should always smell sweet but never taste sweet. Floral and honey are common flavors that are used to describe saffron, and honey and hay are often used to describe the scent. If you’ve had good quality saffron before, you should be able to recognize both the taste and the scent.
Saffron should feel fully dry when you touch it and afterwards the distinct aroma should be noticeable on your hands. It will also leave some of the signature yellow color on your skin.
Another touch test is to infuse a couple of saffron threads in cold water for a few minutes, then put them between your fingers and rub back and forth a few times. Fake saffron will fall apart but real saffron threads will not break.
The Baking Soda Test
This is a quick and easy test. Mix baking soda and water in a vessel, then add some saffron. If it turns a yellow color, it’s pure. Fake saffron will turn the mixture red.
The Cold Water Test
Another simple test is to put a few threads of saffron in cold water. All kinds of saffron (even fake or low quality) will release some color into the water but pure saffron will not release much color straight away. Instead, real good quality saffron will release a golden hue from the threads slowly and it can take as long as 10-15 minutes before the water turns completely yellow.
Like the baking soda test above, red is not a good result and usually means you’ve bought altered saffron or fake saffron containing chemical colorings.
The saffron threads themselves should not lose their red color either. If you see the threads going pale or white, that’s another sign of a fake product.
Always visit a reputable spice seller when you want to buy quality saffron to ensure you’re getting a high-quality product that’s safe and comes with all the flavor, aroma and health benefits that you’re looking for.