Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the saffron crocus. Saffron crocuses grow from 20 to 30 cm (8 to 12 in) and bear up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigmas, which are the distal end of a carpel. Together with the styles, or stalks that connect the stigmas to their host plant, the dried stigmas are used mainly in various cuisines as a seasoning and as a coloring agent. Saffron is among the world’s most costly spices by weight.
Saffron’s taste and iodoform fragrance result from the chemicals picrocrocin and safranal. It also contains a carotenoid pigment, crocin, which imparts a rich golden-yellow hue to dishes and textiles. Its recorded history is attested in a 7th century BC Assyrian botanical treatise compiled under Ashurbanipal, and it has been traded and used for over four millennia. Iran now accounts for approximately 90% of the world production of saffron.
Based in Switzerland, the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 3632 publication specifies definitions and test methods for saffron, a spice obtained from the pistils of the Crocus sativus L. flower. It applies to filaments, cut filaments and the powder.
How to Recognize Quality Saffron
Also known as “red gold” and popular for its use in cuisine, saffron is the world’s most expensive spice. As an object of desire customers can be victims of fraud. Low quality saffron is often traded on international markets and the specifications for purity are not always respected. A number of ISO standards help fight against such fraud and in the recognition of quality saffron. Saffron is considered to be pure when it complies with the requirements of the ISO 3632 standards and when no external matter has been added to the natural product. The two parts of the standard, ISO 3632-1:2011 and ISO 3632-2:2010 give specifications and specify test methods for different categories of dried saffron. These standards are useful in understanding the strength of flavor, aroma and color; which are the most important qualities of this spice.
Working with Saffron
Clients are professional chefs who work in the finest restaurants and hotel. However, it is just as important to make sure that every home cook, student chef, caterer, supermarket buyer and culinary academy not only buys the best saffron available but knows how to use it properly to get the most value. So whether you use saffron once a year or several times a day, certain guidelines will be useful.