About Saffron and what makes Kashmiri Saffron special
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of the Saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), a species of crocus in the family of plants, namely Iridaceae. The flower has three elongated stigmas which are the distal ends of the plant's carpels (carpel is the female reproductive organ of a flower). Together with its style, these components are often dried and used in cooking as a seasoning and colouring agent. Saffron is widely used in India and is prized for its distinct flavour and the colour it imparts to the recipe.
Saffron is characterized by a bitter taste and iodoform or hay-like fragrance; these are caused by the three major bioactive compounds in saffron, which are Picrocrocin, Safranal and Crocin. Picrocrocin is a compound (a monoterpene glycoside) which is colourless and has a bitter taste, and is the chemical most responsible for the taste of saffron – “this is how original Saffron should taste bitter”. While Safranal is an Organic compound formed when Saffron is dried, and Safranal is the constituent primarily responsible for the aroma of saffron.
Besides these two, Saffron also contains a carotenoid dye, crocin that gives food a rich golden-yellow hue (colour). Crocin is highly valued in the food industry and gastronomy for their ability to bestow bright orange to yellow hues, and in case of Saffron as well, Crocin content indicates its colouring strength, and it due to Crocin that Original Saffron, when steeped, liberates golden-yellow colour.
"Original Kashmir Saffron possess a high percentage of crocin (16.5% to 17% in fresh stigmas) on a moisture-free basis, imparting it a superior quality and greater colouring strength as compared to Saffron from other countries.”
These compounds Picrocrocin, Safranal and Crocin contribute to the sensory profile and health-promoting properties of saffron. These characteristics make saffron a much-sought ingredient in many foods worldwide, besides, Saffron has also been used in medicine since ancient times.
It is for these intrinsic qualities - high colouring strength, aroma and bitterness in Kashmir Saffron – that make Saffron from Jammu and Kashmir, World-class.
How to identify original Saffron? Or, How can you tell if saffron is real?
Although Kashmir produces the best Saffron in the world, the quality being sold is low for Saffron being an expensive material is liable to frequent adulterations for economic gains. Getting Original Kashmiri Saffron is very rare as mixing Iranian Saffron with Kashmiri Saffron and selling it as genuine “Kashmiri Saffron” is now a very common practice.
The problem is further aggravated by rampant adulteration in original Kashmir saffron and these deceptive businesses cheat a customer by mixing floral parts, other than stigmas of saffron, e.g. stamens and petals; and some even go beyond and use the most sophisticated adulteration techniques and sell ray florets of marigold and safflower, mixed with dyes and sell it as saffron; And some sellers even go a step higher in adulteration by selling fine plastic shavings of saffron colour, for Saffron, or for that matter they use dyed paper cuttings and finish them so precisely that to an ordinary customer it looks like real, Original Saffron.
Well, talking in technical terms, the best authenticity biomarker in saffron is picrocrocin. So far, Saffron is the only plant in which picrocrocin has been found and this is why it is an excellent marker of saffron authenticity and purity.
In general, there isn’t any rule of thumb, by what we can objectively and with a sense of certainty say that the Saffron is Original and it always has to undergo chemical analysis.
Having said that, here are a few quick ways to check Saffron at hand and without having to go for a chemical test:
Original Saffron stigmas sink in water while the spurious saffron remains afloat.
In the case of Original Saffron, when Saffron strands are pressed between white blotting filter paper no translucent oily spot should appear inferring that the Saffron is original and in its natural form.
Lastly, Original Saffron dyes white piece of cloth to yellow shade and not as red as the spurious saffron will do.
Here are some more chemical tests to check if Saffron is original:
Original Saffron with sugar imparts a yellow colour to water but not to xylene.
Original Saffron stigma on reaction with strong sulphuric acid turns blue, the colour gradually changing to deep violet or purple and finally to purplish red.
Nitrogen contents of Original saffron are remarkably constant at 2.22% to 2.43% and Kjeldahl's estimation is good to check its purity.
Saffron solution gives reddish precipitation with barium salt solution.
On Buying original Saffron
Although we have mentioned several tests above an ordinary customer would generally not take this much, and he would go with what is readily apparent to the eye, or by the brand value, rather than going to a lab setup and get the product (few grams) tested incurring expenses much more than the value of the Saffron. So, it is up to the enterprise itself to ensure that Original Saffron is being sold to its customers.
And, at Amin-Bin-Khalik (ABK) from last fifty years, we have been going on with this mindset and monitoring all that is possible – from Source to Sale, earning us customers for "Original Saffron" or rather, "Original Kashmir Saffron" for a lifetime!