Quality of Saffron Extracts May Depend on Color


One saffron supplier says there may already be a difference in quality on the saffron extracts market.

The saffron flower is known not just for its pricy spice, but also for the impact that spice seems to have on depression and anxiety. As studies continue, so should market sales. So, how can dietary supplement manufacturers have confidence in purchasing saffron extracts of suitable quality?

While saffron flowers are composed of several parts, it’s the three red stigmas in each flower that provide much of the basis for clinical research on saffron extract. Nichole De Block, marketing director for saffron supplier Nutraceuticals International Group (NIG; Paramus, NJ) says saffron stigmas are red because they house the highest content of crocin, a compound researchers believe is largely responsible for saffron’s effect on the human brain. Some saffron suppliers now standardize their extracts for crocin content, although researchers do believe there may be other influential compounds in saffron beyond crocin.

NIG and presumably other companies supply saffron powder made purely of the red stigmas, but De Block says other companies may mix stigmas with the orange and yellow stalks that connect each stigma to its to flower. If crocin content is to be taken seriously, and the stalks provide lesser value because they contain less crocin, lighter-colored saffron extracts may be indication of reduced potency. In the case of NIG’s saffron, De Block says the red color is so strong that it can stain. A high-potency saffron beverage, although intriguing as an idea, would likely stain one’s teeth.

Saffron is largely considered the world’s most expensive spice. In the case of Saffr’Activ, it takes 150 handpicked flowers to yield 1 kilo of saffron extract, and the harvest season only occurs during a short time of the year. For as precious as saffron seems to be, manufacturers better know what they are getting.

Robby Gardner
Associate Editor
Nutritional Outlook magazine

Photo © iStockphoto.com/viperagp

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