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Not All Spices are Created Equal

Categorizing Saffron by its Quality

Not all spices are created equal and when you’re talking about the most exotic and expensive spice in the world, saffron, you can bet that people want to know the quality of their product.  Because saffron is such a unique and special spice that goes beyond seasoning food, the International Standards Organization (ISO) has developed classification categories which are dependent on a number of quality aspects.

As with any plant, the soil in which it’s grown plays a critical role in growth development along with other vitally important factors such as: sun, water composition and consumption, root spacing, corm depth, temperature, and humidity.  Since Crocus Sativus corms are considered an arid mountain plant, they are particularly susceptible to corm rot if they receive too much water or sit in water for an extended period of time and there’s no coming back from that.

The red stigmas (3 per flower) should be picked as soon as flowers emerge which happens once per year for about three weeks usually in mid to late October. Particularly with saffron, drying stigmas quickly and in an optimal way is also vitally important to achieve a top quality product which is often overlooked as a key factor.  There are a number of different drying methods. One of the most basic techniques is to air dry the threads for a number of days but that’s not ideal because the longer you expose picked threads to open air and UV light, the more losses you’ll have with the three main ingredients you’re trying to preserve: Crocin (color), Picocrocin (flavor), and Safranal (aroma).

ISO 3632 Classifications of Saffron

Category IV (Class IV) Spanish Sierra

  • Lowest grade, typically not used anymore because it’s not a grade that anyone would be interesting in purchasing or that’s even marketed.  Crocin levels measured less than 110

Category III (Class III) Persian Poshal, Spanish Standard

  • Low-grade, crocin levels measured 110-150, likely the most common grade sold on the market even though brands will often tell you their saffron is of a higher grade

Category II (Class II) Persian Negin, Spanish Rio

  • Mid-grade, crocin levels measured 150-190
ISO 3632 Category 2 Saffron
Category I (Class I) [Grade A] Persian Sargol, Spanish Cupé
  • High-grade, crocin levels measured >190 although with Spanish saffron there’s a sub-category called La Mancha (180-190).  Negin threads can fall into this category as well.  The difference between negin and sargol threads is the thread length.  Typically as the thread thins out (towards the base), less ingredients are present but that’s not always the case
  • Average picrocrocin count (flavor) >70
  • Average safranal count (aroma strength) 20-50

Category I+ (Class I+) [Grade A+] Persian Super Sargol, Spanish Súper Cupé

  • Highest grade (not officially a category however), crocin levels measured in excess of 250, the rarest or most sought after threads.  This is also the only grade the Red Thread Farmstead sources, packages, and grows
  • Average Red Thread Farmstead picrocrocin > 110!
  • Average Red Thread Farmstead safranal > 45!
ISO 3632 Category 1 Saffron

    ISO 3632 tests are conducted in certified labs using spectrophotometric absorbance equipment.  It’s currently the most effective way to measure levels of crocin, picocrocin and saffranal.  Crocin is considered the most important as its presence also affects the levels of picocrocin and saffronal within the threads.  From a medicinal standpoint, it’s also the most relevant.

    Beyond that, the test also measures percentages of non-stigma content.  Some individuals however prefer a holistic approach to evaluating the quality of saffron threads.  Those with experience can visually assess the color, texture, smell, and taste of the threads.  It’s also quite easy to distinguish between real and counterfeit saffron if it remains in whole threads and not in powder form.  With powers, it’s easy to add weight by blending the power with other cheaper spices like paprika for example.  Saffron threads are uniquely shaped which is difficult to replicate.  Safflower is fairly close but still quite easy to distinguish.  Don’t be fooled if you ever run up against this.  Here is an example of safflower disguised as saffron:

    Safflower Counterfeit

    We stand by our product and offer a 100% money back guarantee if you’re not completely satisfied for some reason.  Look no further, you’re getting the best spice in the world, in an air tight, UV protected package that’s unique to our brand when you purchase from our farm.

    We’d love to hear about your experience using saffron whether you’re cooking with it, drinking tea, or using saffron in some other unique fashion.  We’ve included a 15% discount on our already reduced prices for all of our products. Use the promo code: PREMIUM15 at check-out.

    All the Best,
    Red Thread Farmstead
    “eat good, feel good!”

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