American Saffron

refers to the thistles of the flower heads of the safflower plant, which grows wild all overthe U.S. and Mexico. The red-orange thistles produce a slight yellow dye but no saffron flavor or aroma in cooking or baking. Those unfamiliar with saffron’s real qualities sometimes mistake these thistles, sold very inexpensively in packages sometimes labeled “saffron”, for saffron stigmas.

Coloring Strength

refers to the dye (color) intensity of commercial saffron when immersed in liquid utilizing test method standards set up by the ISO (see ISO). It is expressed as degrees of color i.e. 190 degrees of coloring strength. This is the standard by which all commercial saffron is placed in quality categories, i.e. Category I (best), II, II or IV. The reason color is the standard, is that the coloring strength of true saffron has a direct correlation to its aroma and flavor. The higher the degree of color in saffron, the stronger its aroma and flavor.

Crocus sativus

the most common variety of fall blooming crocus which produces saffron. The bulb reproduces itself and most commonly is left in the ground of saffron cultivating countries for four years at a stretch before it is lifted out and replanted in new earth. These bulbs are widely available through nurseries in the U.S. which import them from Holland. Countries which export commercial saffron do not allow saffron bulbs to be exported.

Crop Year

refers to the date you see on saffron packaging which indicates the date of the harvest from which the saffron originated. The date is usually expressed as two years, i.e. 1997/98, indicating the saffron was harvested in 1997 and then exported in 1998. Since saffron stigmas are harvested late in the year and must be cured (dried) and packaged properly to preserve their chemical properties, it is impossible for them to be collected and shipped in the same year.


when these terms are used with saffron, this refers to the process by which the aroma, flavor and yellow dye are successfully removed from saffron threads in order to add those properties to cooking and baking. Saffron threads need to be immersed in hot, acidic or alcoholic liquids for a period of time longer than a few minutes in order to release enough of their chemical properties so that you are not wasting your money (see What is Saffron? section of this website).

False Saffron

another name for safflower (see American Saffron) or any substitute for saffron. Note that true saffron may be mixed with such filler substances such as dyed grass blades or straw to add weight and therefore commercial value.

Floral Waste

as defined by the ISO, refers to the “yellow filaments that are unattached and separated, pollens, stamens, parts of ovaries and other parts of the flower of Crocus sativus Linnaeus”. In other words, floral waste consists of the parts of the saffron flower which contain none of saffron’s aromatic, flavoring or coloring properties and should not be present in commercial saffron in anything but minute quantities. In a photospectometry report, floral waste is measured, along with coloring strength and other indicators in order to classify commercial saffron by quality category.


short name for the International Organization for Standardization based in Switzerland, a body of professionals who set worldwide commercial quality and labeling standards for various foodstuffs, including spices and condiments (see Coloring Strength and Photospectometry Report).

Mancha Saffron

common brand name for Spanish saffron grown in the five provinces of the La Mancha region of southeastern Spain. This name should not be taken as a direct reference to the quality of the saffron as coloring strength is the only way to measure saffron quality scientifically (see Coloring Strength, ISO, Photospectometry Report).

Maximum Coloring Strength

is defined by the ISO Standard 3632 governing saffron. All I can tell you is that my Golden Gate Brand saffron measures 256 in the laboratory and I have not found any other commercial saffron which measures higher.

Mexican Saffron

See American Saffron.

Minimum Coloring Strength

expressed as 190 degrees of color in saffron (threads or powder) in a laboratory analysis as part of the ISO definition of Category I saffron (see ISO, Coloring Strength, Photospectometry Report).

Photospectometry Report

is a laboratory report which analyzes the chemical make-up of a substance. This laboratory analysis is used to determine the quantity of crocin (yellow dye), picrocrocin (flavor expressed as bitterness) and safranal (aroma) present in commercial saffron. Depending on the results of this analysis, commercial saffron is then branded as Category I (the best), Category II and so forth, as defined by the ISO (see ISO and Coloring Strength).

Saffron Category

refers to the slotting of commercial saffron into one of four categories (excellent to poor) as last revised in 1993 by the International Organization for Standardization in Switzerland (see ISO). There are four ISO saffron categories, each defined by the coloring strength and other indicators, as measured in a laboratory, (see Coloring Strength and Photospectometry Report).

Saffron Filaments

another term for saffron threads (as opposed to saffron powder).

Saffron Harvest

an annual event which takes place over three to four weeks in October and November in the Northern Hemisphere (Iran, France, Greece, Kashmir, Moroco, Spain, Wales) and in April in the Southern Hemisphere (New Zealand). During this time, the Crocus Sativus plants bloom continuosly, necessitating long work days for farmers and their families, who generally cannot afford to hire harvesters and must do all the work themselves.


male part of the saffron plant with no culinary value and not part of true saffron. They are bright yellow and in Grece are sometimes harvested, powdered and sold as a coloring agent for paint.


the female reproductive organ of the saffron plant which, when properly dried (cured), become commercial saffron. They are bright red and look like thin red threads when dried.

True Saffron

refers to pure saffron as opposed to saffron mixed with non-saffron substances to add bulk and weight. Everyone needs to be concerned about saffron adulteration (see False Saffron) .