Saffron adulteration

How to Detect Saffron Adulteration?

Saffron adulteration has become a growing negative trend in the saffron industry. The economic profit and high value of saffron are the reasons why saffron dealers in local markets try counterfeiting or adulteration of saffron. Saffron adulteration is the act of adding artificial or natural dyes, such as gardenia yellow, extract of Buddleja officinalis and tartrazine, or adding parts of some other plants, such as turmeric, calendula, or safflower to saffron product. Plus, some dishonest producers mix fresh and aged stocks that is produced in previous years to gain more profit. The second adulteration trick is difficult to reveal, at least through microscopic or visual inspection.

There are some simple ways to detect saffron adulteration, which we explained in “Seven Easy Ways to Identify Real Saffron”. This time we focus on laboratory tests that detect different types of adulteration.

Saffron adulteration is not a concern about the safety of the product. People don’t die from using counterfeit saffron. The only threat is that the user won’t know the extraordinary taste and aroma of real saffron.

Common laboratory methods to detect saffron adulteration:

There are some laboratory techniques to identify fake saffron. Some studies have looked into this and proposed several ways to help us make sure that we are buying real saffron.

1- Spectrophotometric analysis is a method to detect saffron fraud and determine quality. This test method is developed by ISO to prevent food fraud. Pure saffron complies with ISO 3632 requirements and contains no added external matter to this product. ISO 3632-12011 and ISO3632-2:2010 can test different dried saffron types including, powder, filaments, and cut filaments. The Saffron Spectrophotometric test is an economical and objective way to provide detailed saffron analysis. Non- destructive spectrophotometric methods determine moisture content, country of origin, and coloring strength of saffron in laboratories.

2- An electronic nose system is one of the proposed ways to detect aroma fingerprints, saffron with yellow styles, safflower, and dyed corn stigma. The use of this technique proved to be effective in the separation of good saffron from adulterated one. It is worth noting that this technique proved to be successful in saffron adulteration higher than 10%. This method works for odor simulation to detect and specify complex odors with the help of arrays of sensors. Electronic nose analyzes differences in dehydration techniques and changes in the volatile compound composition of saffron from different countries to detect the geographic origin of the product with 90% of confidence. However; this technique has several limitations such as training requirements, and sensitive sensors to humidity, pressure, and gas volatility.

electronic nose system to detect saffron adulteration
Figure: (a) E-nose sensor response to an odorant; typical response of e-nose to samples: (b) saffron; (c)safflower; (d) corn stigma.

3-The gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) detection method analyzes the aroma profile and detects artificially adulterated saffron. These GC-MS chromatograms are analyzed to specify the contamination levels of the tested saffron. This method is most efficient when combined with chemometrics that intends to detect plant contaminants, such as calendula, safflower, and turmeric, even at low levels.

3-The gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS)

4-Moreover, microscopic study of samples has proved to be an efficient way to determine the quality or spot possible adulteration. This type of test analyzes the purity of saffron products using distilled or deionized water as reagent, plus Iodine, potassium solvent, and sodium/ potassium hydroxide solvent.  

In addition to the above-mentioned methods, nuclear magnetic resonance, high-performance liquid chromatography with the help of spectrometry or photometric detection, or other polymerase chain reaction-based (PCR) methods are effective in the detection of any adulteration in saffron.

Detection of commercial saffron frauds is becoming more challenging as fraudsters are finding techniques to make chemical, organoleptic, and physical characteristics less identifiable. Therefore, it is best to use a combination of methods to make sure about the purity of saffron products. Saffron international buyers can make sure about the purity of saffron with the help of laboratory tests.

Saffron laboratory tests can make sure that the procured product contains no adulteration. SunLand Saffron laboratory conducts more than 10 tons of saffron physical, chemical and microbial tests per year, relying on nutrition experts and the most updated laboratory equipment, making sure that the exported saffron product is pure and free from any adulteration.

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