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Depending on who’s system we use, there can be up to four different grades of Saffron that range -as expected- from grade four, being the worst to grade one being the best. International grades are assigned via the international standards organization; the ISO grade is determined generally by three factors – color, flavor, and aroma. This is assuming the saffron meets basic quality standards to begin with. Measuring crocin, a chemical compound found in the saffron threads, is of primary concern because it’s strength effects all other outcomes of measurement. Below, we illustrate the four different grades of saffron quality.
Grade I - Super Negin - The good stuff, crocin heavy! Super Negin Saffron should be deep red, no shake (other parts of the plant) stigmas only, and dry. Each thread from the crocus should be 9.5mm in length (.375 inches) to 12.5mm (half an inch) long. Again, saffron from different regions, experiencing different growing conditions leaves a lot of personal interpretation each year as to what the very best saffron might be.
Grade II - Sargol – When the general public buys saffron they are most often buying sargol grade saffron. It’s quality varies according to the thickness of the stigmas and the presence or absence of broken stigma.
Grade III - Pushal – The third grade of saffron can contain deep red stigmas of high quality but to put it simply, it’s “cut” by not being... cut, precisely. Attached below the red stigma (thread) is the end bit of yellow or white connecting plant material.
Grade IV - Dokhtar - The lowest grade of saffron consists of your standard red stigma, but it’s connected to the whole “style”. Think of a flower’s style like a secondary flower stem which grows from inside the flower. Usually saffron is made from the very deep red top of this, lower grade saffron also includes the yellow or white bottoms.
What does it mean? Simply - this causes Sargol saffron to have broken and smaller stigmas than Super Negin saffron.
Worldwide ISO classification, Persian Saffron, Greek Saffron and Spanish saffron all use different grades. However, for example, a Persian Saffron graded as “Sargol” (the most common, top end saffron export in countries like Iran) may also submit to gaining a secondary ISO rating to improve export marketability.
As we briefly touched on above, cooking with high quality saffron is really “The only way to go about life, son”. Being able to identify the quality of something you buy online or at your local market is definitely a key to your culinary success when cooking with saffron (other than proper portions).
A couple easy rules of thumb to keep in mind:
If your buying online, go ahead and contact the supplier for more information. Ask about the procurement process, the geographic specifics, or the ISO (and other appropriate) ratings. For your reference, you can contact Pure Saffron Farms here.
As above, low grade saffron will contain colors other than red and may be cut too short, or not as dry as a proper harvest should be from the saffron harvesting regions. Only the stigma (threads) should be present in your purchase and if it contains yellow threads this is the first indicator of low quality saffron.
Identifying outright fake saffron can be a little more challenging because, well, thieves can be a lot of things, but boring and unoriginal usually aren’t some of those things. There’s always a new way to game the system, but we can advise you of the “adulterating industry” standard.
The easiest way to turn the bad into the good, is to dye the outside of a stigma dark red. You can test your saffron in some water and observe how long it takes to fully permeate throughout the solution. Fake saffron is going to begin to interact with the water much faster.
Traditional tasty saffron needs to steep in the water some time to bring the flavors fully into play.
Saffron On, Friends!