New case of saffron fraud uncovered in UK

Saffron’s high price tag means that fraudsters are often tempted to cut the spice with adulterants to bulk it up.

An incident in the UK this month is another example of that criminal activity, with almost 90kg of adulterated saffron – worth an estimated £750,000 (around $900,000) – seized by UK enforcement agencies. The fraudulent spice was discovered at shops in Worthing on the Sussex coast.

A two-year trading standards investigation traced the counterfeit spice to a factory in Alicante, Spain, and the case is now being taken on by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the Spanish authorities. Two people have been arrested.

Saffron should be harvested from the stigma of Crocus sativus Linnaeus, and some 85,000 flowers are needed to produce a single kilogram.

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" – to meet international standards.

Some fraudsters dupe purchasers by mixing in material from the stamens or other parts of the saffron flower, other plants like safflowera and gardenia, and even meat and gelatine fibres as bulking agents. Sometimes dyes like tartrazine and sunset yellow are added to boost the intensity of colour in the fraudulent material.

There are also cases in which real saffron is used to falsify and more expensive protected designation of origin (PDO) product.

Peter Aston, Trading Standards Team Manager, said: “Genuine saffron is an expensive product so the potential to make money from adulteration is high. This is an excellent result for our Trading Standards service which has led to an international investigation and the discovery of thousands of pounds worth of adulterated saffron.”

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