Saffron Quality Grades

It is important to point out that not all saffron is the same quality or indeed potency. The strength is determined by a number of factors such as the amount of style picked along with the red stigma. The highest concentration of active chemicals are in the red tips of the filaments and so the higher to the tips they are cut the more red they will be and therefore the more packed with flavour power and antioxidants will be at the prised tips, in Iran this cut which is the very highest quality grade is called Sargol and it is the top 3 mm of the all red filament tips only, prised the World over by foodies, chefs and gourmets for its unique flavour. Iran remains the World’s number 1 saffron producer for both volume and quality, other countries that produce the spice are Italy, Bulgaria, Spain, India, Kashmir and America.

Another factor determining the power of saffron is its age of the saffron is a factor and manufacturers put a 2 year sell by date on saffron although in reality it keeps its potency for way longer than this, however like all foods it is always at its best fresh.

Saffron from Iran, Spain and Kashmir are all classified into various grades which are classified by the % amount of red stigma VS yellow style parts of the flower that they contain. Here is a portion in the mid-range of the filament where an orange colour is visible where the red fades into yellow.

The highest quality grades of Iranian saffron is called Sargol which is the all red stigma tips and no style at all, this is the most potent grade as it is in the all red filament tipos where the highest concentration of active natural compounds aggregate, The grade below Sargol is called Pushal which is made of filaments which have some red stigma plus some yellow style part of the filament, Another cut of saffron is "Bunch" which is the entire filament from red tip to base of the yellow style presented in a tied together bundle. The lowest grade is Konge which is the yellow style portion of the filaments only, it has a mild aroma and possesses very little if any colouring power so not any good for a rice dish.

The top grade of Spanish saffron is called Coupe which would be their version of Iranian sargol and has the highest flavour and colour power. One down from Coupe is the Mancha which will be the Spanish equivalent of Iranian pushal. The word Mancha has 2 meanings, firstly a general grade of saffron or secondly a very high grade Spanish grown spice with provenance from a specific geographical location. Real La Mancha saffron has specially protected status and a logo is on the product packaging to display this.

In Kashmir, saffron is in general classed in 2 categories, firstly the highest grade called Mongra which is the all red stigma tips only. The lower grade down is Laccha which is has the red stigma tips with part of the yellow style.

Artisan producers in Europe and New Zealand have offset their higher labour charges for saffron harvesting by targeting quality, only offering high grade spice. It can also be categorised under the international standard for saffron ISO 3632. The ISO official organisation maintains food standards by using laboratory measurements of the many of the spices naturally occurring chemical compounds of which the most important 3 main chemicals are Picorocrocin, Crocin and Safranal.

  1. Picorocrocin which gives the taste
  2. Safranal which gives the spice its aromatic qualities.
  3. Crocin which gives the colour.

To protect yourself when buying saffron always make sure to see an ISO certificate on the packaging. ISO 3632 deals exclusively with saffron and lists 3 quality grade categories.

Grade 1 is the highest grade, then ISO Grade 2 is the medium grade and ISO Grade 3 means it is low grade.

Samples are placed into their appropriate relevant category by lab testing the Safranal, Crocin and Picrocrocin content using spectrophotometric absorbance spectra. These data are gathered only at certified testing laboratories around the World. Higher absorbance values in the data simply means higher levels of crocin, picrocrocin and safranal, and so the spice has a higher colouring power and therefore it has a higher strength per gram.

There are over 140 volatile compounds in saffron spice which are aroma producing, plus in addition is rich in non-volatile compounds like the carotenoid family of chemicals such as lycopene, α- and β-carotene and zeaxanthin. The red and orange colours in the filaments are mainly due to the presence of α-crocin carotenoid pigment which in fact can make up approximately 10% of the dry mass of saffron. The α-crocin is ideal for colouring water-based and non-fatty foods such as rice dishes.

Saffron Health Benefits

  1. ANTI CANCER: Biochemical studies on rats treated with saffron extract solution showed improvement in their cancer condition plus in addition to this that the chemical crocin had inhibited colorectal cancer cell growth. Similar results were obtained for hepatic and prostate cancers. Saffron is rich in carotenoids and to a large part it is considered that these natural chemicals contribute to its anti-cancer properties. Crocin in saffron can help to prevent breast cancer and leukaemia and further research is warranted in these specific areas and others.
  2. HELPS ARTHRITIS SUFFERERS: A medical research study conducted in Italy found that the chemical crocetin present in the spice can increase the amount of the human bodies cerebral oxygenation which is helping arthritis treatment to chronic sufferers and mild alike. It is important to note it must not be used by pregnant women or elderly patients with liver, kidney or bone marrow conditions.
  3. IMPROVES VISION - A study carried out found that the natural chemicals found in the spice help to stop loss of eyesight and retina degeneration disease. Safranal works to preserve the photoreceptors in the eye, improves ones visual response, and boosts the capillary blood supply network. The findings went on to state increase in patients macular thickness which is good news indeed as it much improves retinal function. It was also found that it acted to prevent photoreceptor damage. In Australia at Sydney University discovered it improved vision in elderly men and women. It effects the genes that regulate the fatty acid content of the cell membrane which makes vision cells stronger.
  4. BRAIN HEALTH: Many studies have demonstrated that it is effective in helping sufferers of learning and memory disorders. A study carried out where 40mg per day taken orally improved Alzheimer sufferers and also that both crocin gives anti-depressant effects in mammals. Saffron supplements dramatically improved the moods of subjects in a wide number of
  5. It has been shown in studies that saffron can really help sufferers of insomnia plus it can help in treating depression and insomnia related conditions. You can just eat saffron filaments raw in some milk or water or add them to your meals. It is always best to eat it raw and not heated for medicinal effects please note.
  6. WOUND HEALING EFFECT: This marvellous spice can also heal wounds, especially burn wounds where it has been seen to increase the skin healing time for burn victims.
  7. HELPING ASTHMA: Since ancient times it has been passed on as knowledge that the spice helping open the air ways, however modern research is limited and needs more time taken so it is best advised to consult your medical practitioner for more information on this.
  8. ENERGY BOOSTER: It is believed to improve energy levels and give one a clear mind and balanced mental state. Coupled with its anti-depressant effects it is a really great idea to get a good regime going through the late Autumn through Winter months to boost immunity and energy levels, we all need a boost after all.
  9. IMMUNE BOOSTER: The carotenoids in this unique spice boost your immune system, for example in a study carried out it was seen that 100 mg of saffron daily gives an immune system boost in activity without any harmful effect, meaning your immunity is acting on a higher level, again a good idea to give yourself the edge during the cold Winter to ward off any illness.
  10. ENHANCE LIVER HEALTH: A study showed that the spice could be beneficial to patients with liver metastases and it was also seen that it can give protection against structural damage to the liver cells plus in addition to this it helps detoxify the liver which is a great effect we can all benefit from.
  11. APHRODISICAL QUALITY: It improves male and female human sexual function without any bad side effects at all and on human males with erection problems it proved to help plus since there were no side effects.
  12. RELIEVE INSECT BITE: Especially used in the Topics an application of saffron extract gives relieve itchy irritating insect bites. There has been no research done officially to our knowledge on this however it is something to try as saffron is generally very beneficial to human skin with absolutely no long term staining or ill side effects.
  13. TREAT INFLAMATION: The Egyptians used it to treat inflammation and their wisdom was quite sage regarding this spice, no pun intended of course! It is a good anti inflammation agent among its other long list of great positive effects on the human body and mind.
  14. TREAT ACNE AND BLEMISHES: Its antifungal action makes it very effective for treating conditions of acne and skin blemishes. Take 5 fresh green basil leaves and 15 strands of saffron and mash them into a fine paste and put it on your affected area and leave for 15 minutes then rinse off with cold water. Carry out day and night.
  15. GET BEAUTIFUL COMPLEXION: Add a few strands of saffron to honey and massage your face with this solution for 10 minutes per day and it will stimulate blood circulation by giving a boost of oxygen to your skin. Simply by using this technique regularly will give you a glowing healthy complexion.