Fake Saffron is a Threat to this Trade. Let’s Do our Bit to Save it!

Fake Saffron is a Threat to this Trade. Let’s Do our Bit to Save it!
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By Binish Qadri


Saffron is the most expensive spice(Soffritti et al., 2016; Qadri, 2017)and  a classic  example of cost-effectiveness, and high demand for labour in the market. It is the high value of saffron which is the root cause of adulteration (Fernandez, 2007). Adulteration of saffron has a long history. It dates back to the Medieval Period in Europe, and specified high value, the punishment for adulterants could be death (Safranshou Code as cited by Gresta, et al., 2008). The first orderly adulteration practices have been recognized and documented by Maish (1885).Every now and then the evident threat for saffron is a deliberate blatant human action known as adulteration(Qadri, 2017) which has badly affected the business of saffron. Globally,  as well as regionally Kashmiri saffron has lost its charm and acknowledgement because of adulteration, lack of safety and quality control measures, and lack of regulations, qualifications and quality assurance. Saffron market in Jammu and Kashmir has a distinct parallel with saffron market in Afghanistan. Like Afghani saffron, Kashmiri saffron lacks strong branding in the national/international markets.

Adulteration in saffron is done in many ways. It includes  misbranding, mixing fresh saffron with old saffron and stamens previously collected and dyed, drenched with matters to increase weight, dried and meshed fibres (Oberdieck, 1991; Alonso et al, 1998).Amongst the artificial substances Erythrosine, tatrazine, methyl orange, ponceau 2R and eosin andare,  the synthetic dyes most often described (Carmona &Alonso, 2004). Normally, adulteration is carried out with vegetal or fake synthetic ingredients along with organic and inorganic substance but mostly styles and stamens are adulterated. The vegetal adulterants frequently used are: onion skins, safflower, poppy, calendula, turmeric, arnica, capsicum, annatto, and stigmas of maize (Maish, 1885).

Oftentimes,  adulteration of saffron is done by adding oil, glycerin, honey, ammonium or potassium nitrate, and dehydrated meat fibres (Sampathu et al., 1984).Adulterated saffron is sold to uninformed visitors and tourists, in that way destroying the image of the state and affecting tourism industry (Hussaini et al., 2010).

In the contemporary times, the saffron market has a very uncertain upcoming future. Iran is the major shareholder both in terms of area and production of saffron in the world (89%). In fact, major saffron production hails from the Middle East and South Asia with a low price, but frequently without certifications, standards and quality control, which is why adulteration in saffron is rampant.

There are traditional ways of plucking saffron in Jammu and Kashmir. All saffron growers in our state prefer hand plucking (Ali et al., 2014). Tugging of saffron is a meticulous task which needs stupendous care. It must be done in a jiffy after dawn. Deferral in picking saffron flowers is the root cause behind deterioration of the quality of saffron and market losses for Kashmiri saffron in the contemporary times, indicating that without introducing modern harvesting techniques and without the introduction of quality identification techniques and trainings to growers in ISO standards and food safety standards and without a grading system or mechanism that will monitor the quality and encourage adherence to such standards, the area of saffron cultivation in Jammu and Kashmir in particular and Europe , in general , will decline quickly in the coming years.

Saffron has medicinal properties and finds wide use in Ayurvedic and herbal medicines (Shah, Mir, Matoo, Dar &Beigh, 2017; Ahmad, 2005). A major contributor of high quality saffron production could originate from the pharmaceutical companies, nutraceutical companies, functional food sector and dietetic supplements(Gresta, et al., 2008). With the rise of demand for functional foods or foods with health benefits, saffron adulteration has been an eye opener which necessitates testifying saffron by market outlay studies (Burdock et al., 2006). In the real world, the consumer is concerned not with the good itself but with the attributes or characteristics of the good.

Saffron is not demanded for the reason that it possesses utility but it is demanded because it has a set of attributes or characteristics (Qadri, 2018). And, saffron has many characteristics to fit in different food related sectors in general and functional foods in particular. Consumer interest in saffron is growing with every passing day specifically in the developed economies of the world, where conspicuous consumption (luxury goods) is high; nevertheless fundamentally paying attention by its wide-ranging attributes which necessitates quality improvements and prevention of adulteration.

Only  a little more than two- fourth of the saffron sold in Kashmir is genuine, and little less than two-fifth is adulterated. Minute observation of characteristic functional elements is valuable to test genuineness of saffron, particularly, powdered saffron. Among the analytic and indicative characters are the upper skin of the stigmas with small papillose protuberances and large pollen grains (Ordoudi & Tsimidou, 2004). Molecular tools are the optimal ways to prevent adulteration (Khan et al., 2008). Better infrastructure drives growth and development. Lack of proper infrastructure in the form of processing units and scientific labs to evaluate quality is the major constraint in checking adulteration, implementing quality standards and avoiding price fluctuations in saffron market.


Infrastructure development in saffron market is very important not only for growth and development of saffron industry, creation of better farmer’s society and marketing society and technological innovations in  the saffron industry but also for detecting adulteration, improving livelihood of more than 10,000 farm families associated with this trade directly or indirectly, reducing wage disparities and income differences.


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The author is a Research Scholar at the Department of Economics, Central University of Kashmir, an Academic Counselor, IGNOU STUDY CENTRE 1209,S.P. College, Srinagar and  Editor in EPH – International Journal of Business and Management Science & Asian Journal of Managerial Science. She is an IJRULA title awards, 2018 winner (Best Researcher, 2018 and can be reached at:qadribinish@gmail.com