Testing the quality of saffron

analisi qualitative zafferano saffron testing quality

Do you know how to test if the saffron you use is of good quality?


To recognize good quality saffron stigmas, you can do a simple sensory analysis. The first thing to evaluate is the scent: quality saffron can be recognized by its characteristic scent. Another aspect to evaluate is the color: the most valuable stigmas are dark red. However, the color must not be uniform, but fade from red to dark orange. The pistils of saffron are dark red in the upper part, then the color fades towards orange and yellow, and then becomes white in the lower part. In an artfully packaged saffron, the final lighter part is discarded and only the best part is kept. To evaluate the coloring power instead, just put a few pistils in water in infusion. If the pistils lose color immediately, the saffron may have been counterfeit: good quality saffron needs at least 20 minutes of infusion to start releasing its aroma and colour.

Assessing the quality of powdered saffron at home is instead impossible: not for nothing, in fact, powdered saffron is the one that most lends itself to counterfeiting.

If we move from the amateur to the professional level, the quality of saffron can only be determined through a specific chemical analysis (spectrophotometric analysis) of its components. The International Organization for Standardization, with the ISO 3632 standard, has established a uniform system of classification of saffron (both in powder and in filaments): according to this standard, saffron is classified in one of the three “Quality categories” (I, II, III).

The analyzes analyze the content of 3 different components:

  • Pyrocrocin, which is responsible for the bittering power, and therefore for the flavour. Pyrocrocin is a glucoside which tends to decrease in the product over time and depending on the state of conservation, turning into glucose and safranal. At the time of harvesting the stigmas are odourless: the scent develops during the drying process.
  • The crocin, a reddish organic pigment, which determines the coloring power of saffron.
  • Safranal, a volatile essential oil that tends to decay over time, responsible for the aromatic power.

To have your saffron analyzed, simply send a sample to one of the accredited laboratories present throughout the Italian territory. For several years, I have been relying on the laboratory of the Mountain University of Edolo (BS).

Since the compounds that make up saffron tend to deteriorate, it is very important to store your supply of saffron in the right way: it is preferable to use airtight containers, stored in a cool place away from light.

How is the price of saffron determined instead? Saffron is also called “red gold” because it is one of the most expensive spices. This is mainly due to two factors:

  • each flower only contains 3 pistils. To obtain 1 gram of dried spice, you need 150 to 180 fresh flowers.
  • The harvesting and subsequent processing of saffron takes place entirely by hand. It is a process that cannot be mechanized, and which involves significant labor costs.

Another factor that can justify a higher price is whether or not it is a certified organic product. Be wary of saffron that is too cheap: if the price is lower than 15 euros per gram, it could be counterfeit or low quality saffron, or it could come from abroad. The average market price of a gram of Italian saffron of 1 quality is around 15/18 euros. If it is certified organic saffron, the market price rises to 25/30 euros per gram.

Always choose top quality Italian saffron, even better if organic like ours!

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