European labs uncover 'sophisticated' saffron fraud

New methodology from European food testing laboratories has revealed a "sophisticated practice" of creating and selling counterfeit saffron as fraudsters double down on the 600-year old practice of making fakes.

The high-price spice, known for its pungent aroma and golden colour, has for many centuries attracted not just culinary consumers, but also fraudsters, looking to replicate saffron on the cheap and sell at market prices.

Knowing the genuine "red gold" from the real thing is not always detected from buyers, and they can easily pass through the supply chain unnoticed.

Saffron should be harvested from the stigma of crocus sativus Linnaeus: You need 85,000 to produce a single kilogram. Under international standards, the finest saffron, which sells for upwards of £6 a gram, or £6,000 ($7,640) a kilo, should have half just a percent of so-called "floral waste", and 0.1 per cent "extraneous matter".

In recent years, however, tests have shown up that some saffron have been faked. Back in 2011, the Independent posted details from 10 brands purchased and sent for analysis, passed on by an amateur cook to the UK newspaper, suggesting that the saffron allegedly contains as little as 10 per cent of actual saffron.

Now, researchers from across southern Europe have posted new findings in the journal Food Control showing up for the first time what it deems a more sophisticated form of fraud.

The authors note that traditional colorimetric and spectrometric tests only suggested that the saffron they looked at was "not pure saffron," but did not delve more deeply into how it wasn't pure.

The authors however went deeper, using metabolic fingerprinting and other methodologies, including nuclear magnetic resonance data, and found a 100 per cent substitution of saffron from a mixture of chemicals in such an erudite that that it not only looked like saffron, but also contained its UV-Vis spectrum and specific values, making it even harder to uncover its counterfeit nature.

"The findings indicated a sophisticated practice, including total substitution of saffron constituents by tartrazine and sunset yellow along with propane-1,2-diol, propan-2-ol and acylglycerols, probably as emulsifier agents," the authors said. "Interestingly, the perpetrators avoided the use of toxic compounds. To our knowledge such a type of fraud has not been elucidated so far."

Related articles:

     Want our news sent directly to your inbox?

Yes please 2


Home  |  About us  |  Contact us  |  Advertise  |  Links  |  Partners  |  Privacy Policy  |   |  RSS feed   |  back to top