How to spot fake saffron

How to Spot Fake Saffron from The Real Thing

Is fake saffron a thing? Absolutely – and when you consider the costly, labour intensive and delicate nature of harvesting saffron, it makes sense there could be fake stuff available to buy that is labelled as the real thing.

If you want to get a feeling for the scale of the problem please read this article about a multi-million euros fake saffron trafficking scheme.

Saffron comes from the crocus flower. The stigma of the crocus flower is red, hence why saffron threads are red. Yet simply looking for red threads is not enough to be sure you are buying the genuine article. Saffron is costly because one flower has three stigmas. These must be hand-picked and sorted to ensure they aren’t damaged. As you can imagine, this is a slow and delicate process.

Small wonder, then, that the cost of real saffron is so high. We all love a bargain, so it makes sense that we’d want to find our saffron supply at a reasonable price. But be careful – if the price is too good to be true, you may not be buying genuine saffron at all.

Real or fake saffron?

There are three things you could buy if you shop for saffron:

  1. The genuine article
  2. Saffron threads with fillers added to increase the weight, so you get far less in a container
  3. Fake saffron threads dyed red (and these could be made from anything, including stigmas from other plants or some very odd items)

Obviously, you want the first option, the genuine article if you want to get the most from your purchase. While the second one may not seem too bad, you’re still getting a raw deal – and you never know what fillers may have been used in this instance.

The saffron water test

The water test is one of the simplest ways to work out if you’ve bought genuine saffron threads. Simply pop a few threads into a glass of water or similar clear receptacle. Leave it to steep in the water for an hour or so. If the water turns yellow, you know you’ve got genuine saffron threads and you can buy them with confidence in future. However, if there is no colour change, or very little, chances are you don’t have the real thing.

There is another way to confirm if you’ve bought genuine saffron or not if you’re doing the water test. Carefully take the saffron out of the water. Put them in the palm of your hand and move them with the fingers of your other hand. If they fall to bits, they’re probably not genuine. If they stay in one piece, you’ve got genuine saffron. This surprises some people as flower stigmas might seem quite fragile, so it’s a great test to try.

Should you focus on the taste and smell of saffron?

You can, but we’ve read many reports from people who give varying descriptions of the taste and aroma so a lot of this can be down to personal preference. This means it is not as easy a test as the water test given above. Some say genuine saffron has a sweet aroma and a bitter taste, but since our preferences differ in this area, there is room for uncertainty which can make this test for fakes a bit unreliable.

The water test is one of the simplest ways to work out if you’ve bought genuine saffron threads.

Check the price for saffron threads and always avoid ground saffron

These are two simple tests you can apply before you even make your purchase. Of course, you won’t know for sure until you do the water test, but these tricks do help minimise the chances of buying from an unreliable saffron source.

The water test won’t work with ground saffron. It is also way too easy to hide various fillers in there. Indeed, your ground saffron may not be saffron at all. At best, you’re going to pay a lot for bulk fillers coloured red, with a little saffron ground up in there as well.

If you buy threads, one end of each thread should be thicker than the other. Meanwhile, if the price is too appealing, it’s highly likely you’re going to have the genuine article. If you bear all these elements in mind, you should be able to spot the fake saffron, and home-in on genuine saffron threads whenever you want them.

Where can you buy saffron?

Sara Saffron offer a full range of premium quality, authentic saffron for incredible freshness, deep colour, pungent aroma and superb flavour. In our expert opinion this is the finest saffron you can buy.

Our award winning saffron comes direct from the best farms in the Middle East and includes Pushal, Negin, Super Negin and Organic saffron.