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SAFFRON ( Crocus sativus L. )
Names in Other Languages:

English Saffron, Saffron crocus
French Safran
German Safran, Echter Safran, Saffran
Spanish Azafrán
Italian Zaffarano, Zafferano, Croco fiorito, Croco senza fiori
Turkish Safran
Japanese 蕃紅花 Sahuran

FAMILY: Iridaceae

ORIGIN:   Saffron is originated from Western Asia and it is cultivated in Spain, Austria, Italy, Greece, France, India and Iran. Saffron stigmata, also called saffron threads


Saffron stigmata, also called saffron threads
Saffron is the three stigmas of the saffron crocus. They are delicate and thread-like, each measuring up to 2.5 - 4 cm. Its colour is a bright orange-red, and in high quality saffron this is uniform. Saffron bearing white streaks or light patches is inferior and when light specks appear in its powdered form it suggests adulteration. Saffron is also the world’s most expensive spice. [1]

USEFUL PARTS: Stigma, also called style. Approximately 150000 flowers are needed for one kilogram of dried saffron; typically, one would need 2000 m² field area per kg harvest. Less expensive qualities include also the yellow stamina, which do not have any taste of their own.

SENSORY PROPERTIES: Very intensively fragrant and slightly bitter in taste.


The average composition of commercial saffron is as follows:
Moisture: 15.6%
Starch and sugars: 13.00%
Essential oil: 0.6%
Fixed oil: 5.63%
Fiber: 4.48%
Total ash: 4.27%
Nitrogen free extract: 43.64%

Source: http://www.indianetzone.com/1/saffron_flower.htm

Chemical composition of saffron
Components Mass %
Carbohydrates 12.0–15.0
Water 9.0–14.0
Polypeptides 11.0–13.0
Cellulose 4.0–7.0
Lipids 3.0–8.0
Minerals 1.0–1.5
Miscellaneous non-nitrogenous 40.0

Source: Dharmananda, S (2005), "Saffron: An Anti-Depressant Herb", Institute for Traditional Medicine

Saffron contains more than 150 volatile and aroma-yielding compounds. On the other hand It also has many nonvolatile active components and many of them are carotenoids, including zeaxanthin, lycopene, and various α- and β-carotenes. Saffron's golden yellow-orange colour is primarily the result of α-crocin. This crocin is trans-crocetin di-(β-D-gentiobiosyl) ester (systematic (IUPAC) name: 8,8-diapo-8,8-carotenoic acid). This means that the crocin underlying saffron's aroma is a digentiobiose ester of the carotenoid crocetin [2]

Proximate analysis of saffron
Components Mass %
Water-soluble components 53.8
→  Gums 10.0
→  Pentosans 8.0
→  Pectins 6.0
→  Starch 6.0
→  α–Crocin 2.0
→  Other carotenoids 1.0
Lipids 12.0
→  Non-volatile oils 6.0
→  Volatile oils 1.0
Protein 12.0
Inorganic matter ("ash") 6.0
→  HCl-soluble ash 0.5
Water 10.0
Fiber (crude) 5.0

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saffron

The intensive colour of saffron is caused by pigments of carotenoid type. Although saffron contains some conventional carotenoids (α- and β-carotene, lycopin and zeaxanthin), its staining capability is predominantly caused by crocetine esters; crocetin is a dicarboxylic acid with a carotenoid-like C18 backbone which is formed from carotenoid precursors (diterpene carotenoid). Crocin, a diester of crocin with gentobiose, is the single most important saffron pigment. In the essential oil (max. 1%), several terpene aldehydes and ketones are existent. The most abundant constituent is safranal, 2,6,6-trimethyl 1,3-cyclohexadiene-1-carboxaldehyde (50% and more); another olfactorily important compound is 2-hydroxy-4,4,6-trimethyl 2,5-cyclohexadien-1-one. Furthermore, terpene derivatives have been identified (pinene, cineol).

The bitter taste is attributed to picrocrocin, the glucoside of an alcohol structurally related to safranal (4-hydroxy-2,4,4-trimethyl 1-cyclohexene-1-carboxaldehyde ). On de-glucosylation, picrocrocin yields safranal.

Safranal and its relatives, most typically C9 or C10 isoprenoids with a cyclohexane ring, are formed from carotenoid pigments as the result of enzymatic degradation [2]


The flower styles are commonly used as a flavouring the foods. Saffron is used as yellow colouring for various foods such as bread, soups, sauces, rice and puddings. They are an essential ingredient of many traditional dishes such as paella, bouillabaisse, risotto milanese and various other Italian dishes.The styles are extremely rich in riboflavin and water soluble. The flower styles are used as a tea substitute. The roots can be cooked. The corms are toxic to young animals so this report of edibility should be treated with some caution.[3] In very high dosage, saffron exhibits severely toxic qualities, but accidental poisoning is rare due to the high price and small amounts used for cooking. [4]


Saffron is abortifacient; anodyne; antispasmodic; aphrodisiac; appetizer; carminative; diaphoretic; emmenagogue; expectorant; narcotic; sedative; stimulant. [3]

The styles and stigmas are anodyne, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, appetizer, carminative, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, sedative and stimulant and they are used as a diaphoretic for children, to treat chronic haemorrhages in the uterus of adults, to induce menstruation, treat period pains and calm indigestion and colic. A dental analgesic is obtained from the stigmas. The yellow dye obtained from the stigmas has been used for many centuries to colour cloth. A blue or green dye is obtained from the petals[3].


[1] http://www.theepicentre.com/Spices/saffron.html
[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saffron