According to the European Commission, spices fall into the category of the most counterfeited food products: as early as the 1st century AD. the Latin writer Pliny said of saffron “There is nothing that is falsified as much as this”. In Italy, unfortunately, it is not compulsory to indicate the origin of the product on the packaging, so it is quite common to come across, without our knowledge, counterfeit saffron. Counterfeit also hase effects on the saffron final price.
It is more common to find counterfeit saffron when it comes to saffron powder: the only way to notice it is to do a chemical analysis of the spice sample, which is often “cut” with other coloring substances such as turmeric (which is called Indian saffron), allspice, safflower or paprika. Sometimes old saffron can be added, which has a lower economic value.
Whenever possible, it is always better to choose saffron threads (buy here).
To recognize good quality saffron threads, you must look at the stigmas: the most valuable are dark red in colour. The colour, however, does not have to be uniform. Pure filaments have a colour that fades from dark red to orange: if the colour is uniform, the stigmas may have been treated with dyes. Another type of scam for saffron threads is to add other parts of the saffron flower previously cut and dyed, or to add the petals of similar plants such as safflower, marigold, poppy or arnica. The most “extreme” counterfeiting methods involve the addition of animal substances, such as dried salted meat fibers, or the addition of artificial products such as colored jelly threads.
There are also counterfeiting methods that affect the weight of saffron: stigmas can be left in a damp room to absorb water, or the threads can be weighed down with the addition of honey, olive oil or molasses.
How do you recognize high quality saffron?
First of all, rely on a serious manufacturer who can guarantee the quality of his product.
Consider the colouring speed of saffron. Try to dissolve saffron in a little hot water or milk: if the liquid becomes coloured quickly, there is a good chance that the product is counterfeit. Pure saffron needs at least 20 minutes of infusion to best release all its colour and aroma.
Counterfeiting significantly affects the final price of saffron. Pay attention if the saffron is too cheap: the average selling price of 1st category organic saffron is 25/30 Euros per gram. If the price is under 18 Euros per gram, it is simply not saffron: it can be counterfeit or low quality saffron, or come from areas where the exploitation of labor is commonplace.
To understand how the price of saffron is defined, you need to know that, according to the tables of Emilia Romagna which extimate the annual working days required for 1 hectare of vegetable production, you need at least 280 working days per year to grow saffron. A 1 hectare saffron cultivation produces about 1kg of dried spice and the processing is carried out mostly by hand. Moreover, if you follow the principle of organic agriculture, apart from the costs of the organic certification and the use of more land due to the mandatory rotation of crops, the care of the saffron plant must be constant: since we cannot resort to chemical herbicides, the control of the weeds has to be done manually.
We at Zafferano Emiliano annually have our production tested by accredited laboratories external to our company, to certify its quality and purity. To obtain organic certification, we are also subjected to the control of CCPB, a certification body authorized by the italian Ministry for Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies and recognized by the European Commission as an equivalent certification body in 39 countries around the world.
Born in Romagna, now living in Piacenza. I am the owner and co-founder with my husband of Zafferano Emiliano. Follow our site to get the latest news about our Saffron cultivation – and some recipes as well!