Today, you can find references of saffron growing in parts of the Mediterranean, Spain, France, Italy, and Iran. But be informed that the quality will vary.
The major problem is the tendency for some sellers to mix a small quantity of saffron with cheaper spices and sell it off as the best quality in order to maximize profit.
Throughout the history, many dishonest dealers are trying to spoil their saffron through adding some similar materials or by dyeing some lower quality saffron strands red.
So how do buyers identify the best quality saffron spice because there is no point spending all that money to get less than premium quality spice? There are some common indications.
Color: Probably the quickest indication of a pure vs. adulterated saffron product is the color. All the threads should have the same vivid crimson red color. Be especially careful if you are buying it in powder form because some of the cheaper saffron producers choose to leave in the yellow stamens which are tasteless to add some weight. This dilutes the final color and reduces the expected taste of the saffron spice. This habit of mixing saffron is unfortunately common in street corner stores and some sellers mix it with other spices especially turmeric and marigold. If you are not buying the powder form but the threads instead, check that the tips of each stigma are all vivid red color. This is a good indication that you are buying saffron that is all natural and pure. Also better for you to select saffron threads instead of powder saffron because threads contain a better flavor and its healing qualities are also better and higher. As a general rule, it’s better to avoid buying powdered saffron entirely.
Another indication Take a pinch of saffron (about 5-7 threads) and put in a cup of cold water. Pure saffron will slowly release a golden hue, whereas fake or adulterated saffron will release its yellow color immediately.
Let the saffron threads soak in cold water for about 10-15 min, do any of the threads turn clear or white? Pure saffron will retain its red color for up to 24 hours. Fake saffron will lose its color or turn clear within a few minutes, this is an indication that the saffron was dyed with chemicals. Some fraudulent sellers will create a mixture of pure and adulterated saffron to increase their profits.
Taste and Aroma: Check the saffron you want to buy with your senses of taste and smell. If you put a thread of saffron in your mouth and it tastes noticeably sweet, then it’s fake. Interestingly, saffron is one spice that its taste and aroma can be difficult to explain. The best quality saffron has a strong and unmistakable smell comparable to honey but with a grassy undertone.
Packaging: It may not sound like much, but the packaging of the saffron can tell you a lot. It should come in a tiny, airtight, and lightproof container with a lab certified rating grade. If you see saffron being sold in large and inexpensive containers, know that you’re being offered a much cheaper mix or another spice entirely such as marigold. Such spices may give food the same color as saffron but will taste nothing like original saffron.
Texture: Take one saffron thread in your fingers and rub lightly, it should feel dry and brittle. If it’s slightly damp to the touch, it means there was moisture left in the pack to increase the weight.
When obtaining saffron, it is important to know what pure saffron is to choose the right one that will give your more benefits. Since it is one of the most falsified spices today, it is imperative to do some research about it and obtain it from a reliable source or trusted suppliers.