Having the taste of real saffron in your food and beverages is the most exotic feeling you could experience, but when it comes to buying real saffron and avoiding fake saffron there is a challenge with the variety of brands that supply saffron.
So how to identify fake saffron?
The flower of saffron is purple flower called autumn crocus, and it has a red stigma which we use as the saffron spice.
the crocus bulb only produces one flower and each flower has 3 saffron stigmas. this is why saffron is so expensive and difficult to harvest.
so you bought your saffron from a store wondering how can it be fake? Saffron can be entirely fake, or it can be real saffron but mixed with other substances.
corn silk threads commonly used as fake saffron, coconut filaments or even dyed meat shreds and shredded paper is other examples. doing a water test will make the dye used to color fake saffron come off easily.
Real saffron mixed with fake materials and fillers or even sprayed with water will make it heavier and have more mass resulting in higher cost.
8 tests to identify real saffron and avoid fake saffron at home
1.Distinguish saffron by sight
Difference of price in saffron is effected by the cut of the Saffron stigma or thread/filament.
- Saffron Grade 1 or A+ or All Red (Sargol or Negin): All red Saffron containing only stigmas. This grade of saffron is 100%, Premium Saffron. This is also natively known as Super-Negin or Sargol Saffron. It is the top 1/3 or 2/3 part of the Saffron filament. It is highly priced due to its rich color & aroma. It is the purest and finest quality saffron.
- Saffron Grade 2 or Thread (Pushal) : Saffron Grade 2 or Thread contains the red stigmas and the yellow/white style end. This category of saffron is also costly and mainly used for daily cooking.
- Saffron grade 3 or B or Tied bunch (Dasteh): Contains the red stigmas connected to the entire style. This is typically low cost and low quality and available in all major local grocery stores. The overall weight of the thread contains more floral matter (Style). Its typical use is in perfumes (attars), fragrances, and incense & aromatic flavors.
Saffron threads are trumpet-shaped. If a thread does not bulge at one end, it’s a fake. If you rub real saffron between your fingers, your skin will turn yellow/orange.
2.Distinguish saffron by smell
To put it in simple words real saffron smells like honey and hay mixed together. the smell of saffron is described to be sweet.
3.Distinguish saffron by taste
Despite the sweet smell, Saffron is bitter, and its flavor is quite distinctive.
To determine if the saffron is authentic, all you need to do is ask the seller for 1 or 2 threads of saffron which you put on your tongue and chew on for a few seconds. You will experience a sharp, bitter taste in your taste buds. Then spit the threads onto a clean paper tissue and rub them inside. You know you buy genuine saffron if the paper tissue color appears yellow. If the color appears red, you are being sold colored threads.
4.Distinguish saffron by color release
Place the threads in a small container filled with tepid water. Wait at least 15 minutes.
Genuine saffron gradually turns the water yellow. It could take up to an hour for the color to change. The red tint of the saffron strands remains. The substance is not saffron if the water changes color immediately, turns red, or does not change color, or if the threads lose their color.
Real saffron threads will also remain intact after soaking if rubbed between your fingers. Fakes, on the other hand, tend to disintegrate.
5.Distinguish saffron by floating in water
The Float Test is another way to determine whether or not saffron is genuine. When immersed in water, real saffron threads do not drown. Instead, they would float. Because of the weight of the colored dye or floral debris on them, fake saffron threads would partially or completely drown in water.
Other uncommon methods are mentioned below to tell real saffron from fake saffron.
6.Distinguish saffron by baking soda
Mix in a pinch of baking soda to the water. Then, stir in the saffron. If the water/baking soda mixture contains pure saffron, it will turn yellow, whereas a fake one would turn dull red.
7.Distinguish saffron by paper
Profiteers may often spray saffron with salt or greasy water to increase its weight. Pour some saffron on white paper and press it with your finger for a few seconds to detect fake saffron that has been tainted with oil. If there are signs of oil on the paper, you have phony saffron on your hands.
8.Distinguish saffron by petrol
Saffron does not dissolve in petrol. To detect real saffron, you can put some saffron in petrol. If the petrol gets colored, it indicates that your saffron is not real.
Tips for buying saffron
- Never buy saffron powder. Although your recipe may ask for powder, buying it in threads allows you to determine if it is genuine. Once the drug has been ground, it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between real and fake or contaminated. Furthermore, even if it is genuine, ground saffron may contain fillers such as coloured rice flour, starch, or other spices such as turmeric or paprika.
- It may seem obvious, but it never hurts to remember to buy from a reputable source. That source could be a store you know and trust, or an online seller you’ve checked out.
Tips on saffron storage
- Store saffron threads in glass in a cool, dark place.
- Saffron should not be stored in a plastic container or bag.
Does fake saffron taste like real saffron?
You can also test the differences in the taste profiles. The test water of the fake saffron will either lack flavor entirely or have a bitter metallic taste.
What do they use for fake saffron?
Fake saffron can be corn silk threads, safflower (an unrelated thistle), coconut filaments or even dyed horse hair, or shredded paper. The dye used to color fake saffron will come off quickly, a fact that becomes apparent if you do the water test.
How can we identify pure saffron?
Cold water test : Prepare a glass bowl full of cold water. Take some saffron threads and place them on top of the water. After 10-15 minute, the saffron slowly releases a golden hue, and the water turns completely yellow. If so, you can make sure that your saffron is pure.