The most expensive spice in the world is Saffron. Each flower has only three stigmata and it is from these that saffron is produced. The expense of Saffron is due to the fact that each stigma of the Crocus flower has to be individually hand picked.
Each stigma weighs around 2 milligrams and it takes about 250,000 flowers to produce one kilogram of Saffron. This is why Saffron is also known as “Red Gold”.
Saffron is used primarily to colour rice and is used in very small quantities, but can also be used as a flavouring.
With something this expensive, it is inevitable that there will most likely be some form of fraud happening. Therefore there are international standards for flavour, colour and aroma. The international standard ISO 3632 was specifically written to protect and define the purity of Saffron.
Pure Saffron has no external matter added to it and meets the requirements of ISO 3632. The standard has two parts, each detailing the test methods for the three different categories of dried Saffron – powder, filaments and cut filaments.
The standard also sets humidity levels that are to be used in the production of powdered saffron, as higher moisture powder will weigh more and not meet the requirements in the standard for pure Saffron. To maintain the quality of the saffron, the standard even details how all categories must be packed.
Even with the standard in place, there are still people who try to sell impure saffron. In the Journal of Food Science in April 2012 a review was done, that showed Saffron to be one of the seven most fraud prone food ingredients in the world.
There are three grades of Saffron; Sargol (rich red and highest strength), Pushali (red / orange) and Konge (yellowish). Iran is the biggest producer in the world with around 109 tonnes per year.
The current price for a gram of Sargol grade Saffron is approximately $A15.50.
Written by Rachelle Williams, The Green Food Safety Coach.