Saffron is considered the costliest amongst spices commanding as much as Rs 50000 a kilogram in the international market and highest quality saffron is supposed to be produced in Spain. One can imagine the extent of money that can be made even if there is a 1% adulteration of this spice with extraneous matters! But it is nothing but scandalous to hear about 50-90% adulteration of saffron that is reported to be taking place, the fraud estimated at millions of dollars globally. Poor consumers have no way to know how bad the saffron being bought from the market in good faith as there are no quick tests to determine purity. Here is a take on saffron fraud reported from Europe.
"Food officials have begun an investigation into claims that "red gold" is routinely adulterated with other, worthless parts of the crocus flower in a scam that is defrauding thousands of gourmands. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has asked its counterparts in Spain to test the saffron being exported from that country after being tipped off that supposedly "pure and genuine" saffron on sale in the UK is of poor quality, and fails to supply the usual colour and aroma. An amateur cook in Britain prompted the investigation by using his own money to buy large quantities of saffron to be tested at labs owned by the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce in Spain, one of the largest exporters. His findings prompted the FSA to intervene. Saffron should be painstakingly harvested from the stigma of crocus sativus linnaeus, some 85,000 of which are needed to produce a single kilogram. Under international standards, the finest saffron – which sells for £6 a gram, £6,000 a kilo – should have only 0.5 per cent of "floral waste" and 0.1 per cent "extraneous matter". But the results on 10 brands purchased and sent for analysis, passed on by the amateur cook to The Independent, suggest that the use of other parts of the crocus range from between 40 per cent and 90 per cent. In other words, some "top-quality" saffron allegedly contains as little as 10 per cent of actual saffron".
One may recall the big saffron fraud that was going on in the sacred temple of Tirupati some years ago when it was discovered that even government approved samples were grossly adulterated with materials of non-saffron origin and saffron is an integral ingredient in the famous laddus sold as prasad to the unsuspecting devotees. One does not know whether such practices are still continuing though there is practical difficulty in getting 100% pure saffron, especially in a country like India which a "paradise" for food adulterators. It may not be any consolation for Indian consumers to know that saffron adulteration is a "universal" phenomenon! Probably the standards and prices of saffron should be linked based on purity, similar to milk which is priced depending on the fat and solids contents.