Six tests to identify real/pure saffron

Six tests to identify real/pure saffron
by Laura from mother would know 
  1. Smell– Many authorities describe the smell of saffron as sweet. I would say it reminds me of paella – a distinctive smell that is not entirely sweet. Rather, I find it both sweet and husky. It is no surprise that saffron brings paella to mind. That dish include saffron in the rice and the addition of the spice gives paella an unforgettable aroma. For examples of how to use saffron in paella rice, check out this seafood paella or this chicken, mushroom and shrimp paella, both from José Andres. One saffron producer describes the aroma of real saffron as “a blend of earth, tobacco, vanilla, honey, salty sweet.”
  2. Appearance– Saffron threads are trumpet-shaped. If a thread does not bulge at one end, it’s a fake.  If you rub real saffron between your fingers, your skin will turn yellow/orange. 
  3. Taste– While saffron smells sweet, it tastes slightly bitter, not sweet. 
  4. Time for color release in water– Put the threads in a small container of tepid water. Wait at least 15 minutes. Real saffron slowly turns the water yellow. The color change may take up to an hour. The saffron threads themselves retain their red color. If the water changes color immediately or turns red or does not change color, or if the threads lose their color, the substance is not saffron. As you can see, the Hungarian “saffron”did not color the water. That was a sure sign it was not real. Also, after they soak, real saffron threads will remain intact if you rub them between your fingers. Fakes on the other hand, tend to fall apart.
  5. How it reacts in baking soda – I haven’t tried this, but several authorities suggest mixing saffron and baking soda in a small container, then pouring water over the mixture. If it turns yellow, the substance is real saffron. 
  6. Price – If it is not too expensive, there’s a good chance it is not real saffron. As my mother taught me, if it seems too good to be true, then it probably is (too good to be true.) I should have doubted the Hungarian substance from the beginning, just based on this price test. 
Choose the best
As a rule of thumb, the deeper the colour of the threads, the better the quality. Deep red with orange tips is considered to be the best. If the tips aren’t orange it might indicate that the saffron is inferior and has been dyed.
Inferior saffron can also look slightly frayed and worn. If you’re buying saffron in markets abroad, beware of cheap deals – the real thing is always expensive. Avoid anything that’s too yellow, as it is probably a fake. You can also buy ground saffron, but it loses its potency quite quickly and is sometimes adulterated with other ingredients.