Saffron belongs to the royal class of spices. With its strong yellow colour, the spice is not only an absolute visual highlight. Saffron also adds a very special flavour to many dishes. But what factors should you consider when choosing saffron?
In our saffron test 2021 we show you the best spices from each category. We also give you important tips and tricks on the correct use and storage of saffron. Whether saffron threads, ground saffron or saffron capsules, with us you will find the best saffron products on the market.
- 1 Weekly newsletter with the best personal finance tips
- 2 The most important facts
- 3 The best saffron: Our picks
- 4 Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying saffron
- 5 id="Decision_Which_kinds_of_saffron_are_there_and_which_is_the_right_one_for_you">Decision: What types of saffron are there and which one is right for you?
- 6 Buying criteria: You can compare and evaluate saffron on the basis of these factors
The most important facts
- Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world. It has to be picked by hand with care.
- Besides its aroma and colour strength, it is also known for its many healing properties.
- The ISO standard ISO/TS 3632 protects against counterfeiting.
The best saffron: Our picks
Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying saffron
What is saffron?
The crocus species saffron needs special climatic conditions to grow and flower optimally. The plateaus in the north-east of Iran offer the perfect conditions. That is why around 90 percent of the world's saffron comes from Iran.
The spice saffron is produced from crocus blossoms. Each flower has only three so-called "pistillate filaments". When dried, the pistillate threads later become the well-known aromatic saffron threads.
However, the flowers only bloom for two days per year. During the short flowering period in the autumn months of October and November, the crocus flowers are picked by hand.
This work cannot be replaced by machines, because care must be taken when picking: Only the three orange-red pistillate filaments may be removed from the flower.
Another reason for the careful manual work is that, if possible, only red filaments should be collected. Light yellow pistil threads reduce the quality and aroma of the saffron spice.
Tips for using saffron
In the following, we will go into the well-known dishes in which saffron is traditionally used. In addition, we clarify the question of how to dose saffron and what other points should be considered when using saffron.
How do I use saffron correctly?
The aroma and colour of this precious spice develop best when used correctly. There are a few things to keep in mind.
We recommend soaking the saffron threads in a little warm water or broth for about 7 minutes. Softening the threads enhances the flavour.
Saffron should only be added to a dish towards the end of the cooking time. It is even best to add it after cooking, because then the aroma does not dissipate.
The colour and aroma of saffron is most intense if you crush the threads yourself and fresh in a mortar.
When dosing saffron, the rule is that less is more. Adding a lot of saffron can quickly make a dish taste unintentionally bitter. Even the smallest amounts of the expensive spice are enough to achieve the desired intensive effect.
Cooking with saffron
The best-known dishes with saffron include Spanish paella, bouillabaisse, risotto alla milanese and lussekatter.
Saffron also plays a major role in Persian cuisine. Due to the large cultivation regions in Iran, Persian rice dishes are often refined and coloured with the spice saffron.
Saffron is also very popular as an addition to many other dishes. As an excellent flavour enhancer, it is used by professional chefs as well as by amateur cooks. Saffron is particularly appreciated as a spice for fish dishes and rice dishes of all kinds.
However, the spice is not so popular for its own flavour. Its effect as a flavour enhancer is due to the bitter substances it contains.
In addition, the addition of saffron can enhance the reddish-orange colour of a dish, for example in a tomato sauce, pumpkin soup or in an aioli.
This precious spice is best stored in a protected place. In a closed, light-impermeable container, the spice is protected from harmful sunlight and moisture. This preserves the excellent quality of the saffron.
Metal and glass containers are suitable for storing saffron. Correct storage is the only way to ensure that the spice does not fade and the essential oils do not volatilise. This is an important point to preserve the active ingredients and fragrances in saffron.
How much does saffron cost?
Each crocus plant has only two or three flowers. Since each crocus flower contains only three pistillate filaments, the later saffron filaments, you need a lot of flowers, and even more plants for little spice.
Around 200,000 crocus flowers are needed for just one kilo of saffron.
However, crocuses only blossom twice a year and only for a few days. In the three-day period, all the pistil threads have to be carefully and cautiously removed from the blossoms by hand. The use of machines is therefore not possible.
Because of the high price, it is advisable to pay attention to the correct dosage of saffron. It is also advisable to compare prices so as not to pay more than necessary.
For 0.1 grams of saffron threads, you pay between 3 and 7 euros. The price varies depending on the origin and cultivation. If the price is lower, you should be careful, because it might be a fake.
For saffron grown in Spain, you often pay more than for Persian saffron from Iran.
Saffron from organic cultivation, which can be bought in health food shops, is more expensive but is of very good quality.
Beware! Some Spanish traders import saffron from Iran and falsely label it as Spanish saffron.
The prices for ground saffron are close to those of untreated saffron threads. Buying saffron as threads is recommended, however, because by grinding it yourself, you can make the highly aromatic powder yourself, which gives it a more intense flavour.
How can I recognise real saffron?
Most widespread are fakes of ground saffron. By adding turmeric, the real saffron is stretched or even completely replaced. Paprika powder and even nitrate are also often used by counterfeiters.
If you want to check saffron for authenticity from home, you can resort to a tried and tested chemical detection method: Caustic soda is added to the solution of the "saffron powder". If the powder is pure saffron, the solution turns yellow; if it also contains some turmeric, it turns red.
There are also fakes of saffron threads, but far fewer. They are relatively easy to recognise by their appearance and smell. Real saffron smells sweet but tastes bitter. With fake saffron, the taste is often sweet as well.
Chilli threads, saffron flowers, sandalwood fibres and marigold petals are sold as saffron or mixed in with the real thing.
For the protection of consumers, various quality criteria for saffron are defined internationally and nationally. The international standard ISO/TS 3632-1 regulates the chemical and physical properties.
The ISO standard prescribes a certain value of safranal and crocin. Safranal is an essential oil and crocin is the red dye. Both distinguish genuine saffron.
id="Decision_Which_kinds_of_saffron_are_there_and_which_is_the_right_one_for_you">Decision: What types of saffron are there and which one is right for you?
The special spice saffron is popular all over the world. As a tourist, you can enjoy a paella spiced with saffron at a Spanish market. New recipes with saffron as a colouring agent for cakes or as a flavour enhancer for sauces can be tried out at home.
Taking saffron as a remedy is also being used more and more frequently for ailments.
Depending on the use, a certain type of saffron is suitable. The spice saffron is available in the following three variations:
- Saffron threads
- Ground saffron
- Saffron capsules
In addition to these forms of saffron, saffron also often appears in spice mixtures. The amount of saffron is often very small. It is better to buy a small amount of pure saffron, as a powder or as threads, and to store the spice properly if you do not use it up immediately.
Saffron threads are the natural, untreated kind of saffron. As pure threads, extracted from the crocus flowers and then dried, they convince with a high aroma.
Saffron threads can be used in many ways. They are suitable for garnishing dishes such as casseroles or as an addition to soups. Saffron threads added as a whole to a dish are also pleasing to the eye.
However, food is not the end of the story, drinks can also benefit from saffron threads - such as a tea that is not only pretty to look at but also highly aromatic.
It is also very easy to make the ground powder from the threads of the spice. Many cooks advise this method, as fresh grinding retains the most aromatic substances and distributes them optimally in the dish.
Saffron threads offer the best price-performance combination for the purchase of this precious spice.
Another advantage of saffron threads over ground powder is that the quality of the saffron is easy to judge. If the threads are broken or there are more yellow-orange than red threads in the package, the quality and aroma is low.
The addition of foreign ingredients can also be detected in saffron threads with just a few glances.
Saffron threads are less suitable for colouring food (unless you grind them with a mortar). This makes them not the best choice for adding to cakes or soups that need to be intensely coloured. The threads of the spice may then be unsuitable.
Saffron powder is the ground version of saffron. To make this product, the dried pistil threads of the crocus flower are ground.
Ground saffron is the best form of saffron, especially for colouring food. The intense colour of saffron is optimally distributed by the addition of the powder. This makes ground saffron suitable for all sauces, soups and of course also for baking.
The aroma is only slightly less than that of freshly ground saffron threads. Due to the powder form, a good distribution of the fragrance and active ingredients is achieved in every dish.
The ground saffron makes it easy for counterfeiters to substitute the powder or mix in cheaper ingredients such as turmeric and the like. Those who buy from supermarkets or official traders can be safe with the ISO standard. However, buying the ground powder from traders at markets should be done with caution.
The saffron powder is more difficult to dose. Since saffron has a very intense effect even in very small quantities, you really only need a knife tip for a dish for up to 6 people. A steady hand is therefore required for dosing.
Buying criteria: You can compare and evaluate saffron on the basis of these factors
Before you buy or order saffron, you should look at some factors that you can use to compare and evaluate the superfood.
In summary, these are the following criteria:
- ISO standard
- Texture of the saffron threads
- Fairtrade cultivation
In the following paragraphs you can read about the individual purchase criteria and how you can classify them.
Since the quality of saffron can vary greatly, it helps to look at the internationally valid ISO seal. This seal can be found on every saffron package, as it is also an important standard for recognising potentially false saffron.
Saffron is considered particularly valuable if it has a high content of its natural colouring, bitter and aromatic substances. The ISO/TS 3632 standard therefore regulates the content of certain chemical substances.
The ISO standard measures the value of crocin, the red colouring agent, and safranal, the essential oil, and finally the bitterness by the concentration of picrocrocin. The higher the value, the higher the quality of the saffron spice.
Saffron of the highest quality level are awarded the ISO/TS 3632-1 seal, the highest category, class I, and have a crocin value of over 190.
Class II saffron, whose content of active ingredients is slightly lower than that of Class I, can be recognised by the ISO/TS 3632-2 seal. Here, the crocin value is between 150 and 190.
The worst quality is far behind with a crocin value of 80 to 110. It falls into class IV and can be recognised accordingly by the ISO/TS 3632-4 seal.
In Spain, the quality of saffron is not assured by the ISO seal, even though the scale is the same. Here, the delimitation of crocin values is divided differently and different terms are used. For example, "Coupé" describes the highest quality, while "Sierra" indicates the worst class. Moreover, in contrast to the ISO seal, the Spanish classification includes five quality classes and not four.
ISO seal classification
|Class I||over 190|
Texture of the saffron threads
The quality of saffron can also be recognised with one's own eye. Conclusions can be drawn by looking at the saffron threads.
In saffron of very good quality, the individual saffron threads should be whole and have a deep red colour. There should be as few yellow threads among the red ones. It must fall below 10 per cent for the best quality.
The red saffron threads have much more flavour and colouring power. Only when they are red have they been harvested at the right time and stored properly.
So when buying saffron threads, you can also look at the texture of the threads in transparent packaging and get an idea of the quality of the saffron in addition to the ISO value.
Saffron can only be harvested and processed by hand, without the use of machines.
Buying products with the Fairtrade seal ensures that the local farmers are paid fairly. In addition, most Fairtrade producers do without middlemen in order to guarantee exactly this fair wage.
This also has advantages for the consumer. Saffron from Fair Trade is sometimes cheaper, because you don't have to pay the way via the middlemen.
Image source: pixabay.com / ulleo