Why saffron is the most expensive spice?

Saffron carries the world’s most expensive food additive seasoning, which is derived from the stigmas of a purple flower of Crocus sativus Linnaeus, a member of the botanical family Iridaceae. Others refer to saffron as “golden spice,” “red gold,” “zafaran,” or “kesar.” Saffron has been used for more than 3,500 years and has witnessed the long culinary evolution of several civilizations around the world. The dry stigma of the Crocus sativus L flower is a royal hallmark of your food dishes or cuisine, which gives them astonishing fragrance, exotic aroma, and color. In addition, it has significant medicinal value and is used in the Ayurvedic medicine system. Crocus sativus L is an autumn-flowering perennial plant native to the Mediterranean region, which includes Greece, Iran, Spain, Italy, and Kashmir, with Iran producing 90% of the world’s saffron. The corm of the Crocus sativus L plant’s natural habitat is cool, with an average annual temperature of 5.9 to 18.6 °C with less humidity; the average rainfall is 420 to 1370 mm; and the soil system should be loose and well-drained. Thus, the natural adaptability of the corms, Crocus sativus L can live in adverse settings.


What are the uses of saffron?

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Saffron is used in cooking because of its distinctive perfume, bitter taste, and colouring. It has powerful medicinal and culinary uses in addition to being utilised in the creation of fragrances and textile colours. Your food’s exotic aroma increases your desire to eat. It has potent sources of antioxidants due to the potency of its natural pigment. Saffron has antidepressant properties and is used to treat chronic diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, premenstrual syndrome, anti-inflammatory properties, coronary artery disease, and appetite-suppressing activities. In folklore medicine, saffron is also used in several formulations for cough syrup and anti-asthma medicine. In recent pharmacological investigation also validated the efficacy of saffron extract as an antitumor, antioxidant, chemoprotective, and memory improvement agent. Despite its several health benefits, excessive saffron consumption has a toxic effect on the body.


What is the bioactive compound found in saffron?

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The richest sources of 150 volatile and aroma-producing phytochemicals are terpenes, terpene alcohols, and their esters. The color of stigmas is due to the carotenoid compounds crocin and crocetin. The odour and aroma of saffron are due to carotenoid oxidation of the safranal compound, and the bitterness comes from the glucoside picrocrocin compound. There are also contain non-volatile active compounds of carotenoids zeaxanthin, lycopene, and various α- and β-carotenes. The crocin is known as trans-crocetin di-(β-d-gentiobiosyl) ester (8, 8-diapo-8, 8-carotenoic acid).


What are the difficulties of saffron production?

Several factors contribute to the difficulty of conventional propagation. Crocus sativus L, in general, is one of the sterile plants that can’t produce fertile seeds due to being triploidy; therefore, daughter corms are reproduced through mother corms, which are dependent on one season. Daughter corms are sometimes very susceptible to fungus infection, resulting in a lower rate of planting material, and specific agro-climatic conditions of saffron farming reduce productivity. The flower’s stigmas require a lot of human labour to pluck. To obtain one kilogram of saffron, one must collect 15,000–16,000 flowers of Crocus sativus. Thus, all of the factors might affect the price of saffron. However, the intervention of plant tissue culture techniques (somatic embryogenesis and organogenesis) in Crocus sativus L is a golden opportunity to produce a mass number of elite daughter corms without sessional variation.


Which time is good for saffron harvesting?

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The harvest time of the stigma influences the quality and cost of saffron; the flowers of Crocus sativus L start blooming within 90 to 120 days of the plantation, and the best time for flower collection is within 2–3 hours of the first ray of sunrise.


Adulteration of Saffron in the world market

Saffron’s expensive and exotic nature has provided opportunities for adulteration throughout history in a global scenario. In the 15th century, the Venice administration built up a special police force called “Ufficio Dello Zaferano” to monitor adulteration in saffron. Marigolds, Red table beet, and Safflowers flowers are cheaply used in saffron to fetch more economic benefits. The powder of saffron is mixed with turmeric, paprika, and synthetic dyes, while the weight of saffron increases with the addition of glycerine, honey, or by mixing with the styles and stamens of saffron flowers or other inferior qualities of saffron, or by mislabelling the quality of saffron.


What is the regulation to regulate the adulteration of saffron?

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO 3632; Parts 1 and 2, 2010) provides a guide for a standard qualification of saffron classes (Quality I for the finest and Quality II, III for the poorest quality) on the fundamentals of quantification of the bioactive compounds crocin, picrocrocin, and safranal. Indian Standard (IS 5453, Parts 1 and 2, 1996) and FSSAI (Lab Manual 10; Spices and Condiments) can help trace adulterants in saffron.


How to test authenticity of saffron at home

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A few saffrons are placed in lukewarm water and observed visually; if it gives an instant yellow colour and is also drooping in colour or does not give any colour at all, it is adulterant saffron, whereas the original saffron it contains gently turns yellow water within an hour. Saffron has a slightly bitter taste and does smell sweet, but this method cannot guarantee the quality of saffron 100 percent; therefore, you must require validated laboratory testing for your products to follow regulatory bodies.


What is the method used to maintain quality control of saffron?

AYUSH approved Cultivator Phyto Lab is one of the state-of-the art laboratories to perform proximate, microbiological, and chemical analysis as per national and international regulatory bodies. The test parameters are Color, Odor, Moisture, Added Coloring matter, shelf-life study, Preservatives, Extraneous Matter, Total Ash, Acid insoluble ash, Water soluble/insoluble, Crude Fiber, Pesticides Residue testing, Mycotoxin testing, Minerals & Heavy metal testing.


Authors : Dr. Sanjoy Gupta and Pallavi Mathur


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