With saffron being an extremely expensive herbal raw material, adulterations have always been a major problem.

Typical adulterants include flowers of other species cut to stripes, such as Calendula officinalis L., Carthamus tinctorius L.,Onopordon acanthium L., Cynara cardunculus L., Zea mays (the stigmas), Crocosmia aurea POPPE ex HOOK (Cape saffron), Arnica montana L., Scolymus hispanicus L., Papaver rhoeas L., Punica granatum L., Sutera atropurpureaCrocosmia crocosmiflora LEMOINE, rootlets of various Allium species (Allium schoenoprasumAllium porrum L.), the outer leafs of onions, Capsicum powder, cut and dyed grassy plants, powdered sandal- and campech wood, or Curcuma powder.

These adulterants are partly produced using industrial methods. Adulterants of animal or synthetic origin include dyed gelatine fibres, meat fibres from salt meat or dried meat, and synthetic dyes, even coloured paper strips.

Typical additions to increase the weight of the commercial material are water, syrup, glycerol, honey or fatty oils. Lycopodium powder is added to avoid the sticking together of the stigmas.

Alternatively the addition of inorganic salts such as calcium carbonate, barium sulphate, magnesium sulphate, potassium nitrate, potassium carbonate or borax was observed. Sometimes pre-extracted saffron is sold, or the cheap "white saffron" (the parts of the style not exposed to sunlight, which is considered inferior to red saffron) is turned red by boiling it together with red saffron. This morphologically undistinguishable material then adds to the bulk of real saffron after drying, but does of course not contain the same quantity of typical saffron constituents.

These adulterations only occur when the material is not traceable to its origins. They can be avoided, and good qualities may be expected whenever full traceability is established starting from cultivation down to extract manufacturing.

Eusano is intimately involved in the establishment of controlled cultivation of saffron, and we have conducted a number of studies of cultivation conditions and quality parameters including:

  • Studies on many cultivars in relation with the properties described by Avicenna.
  • Analysis of stigmas collected in Tibet, India (Cashmere & Ladakh), Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaidjan, Iran (many regions), Iraq, Armenia, Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Yemen, Greece, Italy, Spain, Morrocco and France.
  • Agricultural studies for the determination of factors having an impact on quality and biomass.
  • Cultivations organised according to the WHO's GACP guideline.
  • Development of bio-certified cultivation.
  • Studies on the variability of the phytochemical composition in relation with the drying of the stigmates.
  • Development of analytical techniques allowing the detection of adulterations of extracts by synthetical dyes.
  • R&D on secondary metabolites for the confirmation of traceability and the origin of the herbal material.
  • Education programs for saffron farmers in Europe within the UESS (Université Européenne des Saveurs & Senteurs).
  • Follow-up on quality of the producers (France, Greece, Morrocco, Armenia, Iran, Afghanistan, Cashmere). Studies on extraction.

Our screening and cultivation projects were originally triggered by the frequency of adulterants and the intransparency of trading channels. Our initial and still ongoing work consisted in the screening of local qualities of various traceable origins. In parallel, we evaluated the impact of cultivation, harvesting and processing techniques on the overall quality of saffron, assessed by its phytochemical composition. The developed techniques allow us to optimize the cultivation conditions for elevated contents in safranal and/or crocins.

We are currently consulting saffron growers in various countries in projects aimed at the establishment of saffron cultivations with over-average quality, following the rules defined in the WHO guideline on Good Agricultural and Collection Practise (GACP), and the principles of organic cultivation.

In addition we developed extraction techniques and galenical formulations such as liquid and dry extracts for specific types of applications.

Development of diverse extraction techniques

Eusano has carried out a number research projects  in the development of both aqueous and dry extracts:

  • Research on the concentration of diverse active constituents.
  • Finalisation of an extraction method allowing for a variety of water-ethanol ratios.
  • Extraction tests with supercritical carbon dioxide and different plant parts.
  • Research on added value subproducts (styles, petals, pollen).
  • Tests on the improvement of quality and yields by different pilot processes by ultrasound.
  • Development of a method for the enzymatic transformation of picrocrocin into safranal.
  • Registration of the brand Saffron’Extr®.
  • Work in progress on diverse crocusatins and the techniques for their isolation for potential use in cosmetics.
  • Research programs on stigmaes, styles, pollen and fresh petals.
  • Extraction of fresh plant material obtained from diverse plant parts.
  • Stability tests and ageing of diverse extracts in correlation with temperature.
  • Possibility of creating isotope markers as a tamper-proof and easyly controlled quality parameter of the delivered extract.
  • Multiple galenical formulations adapted to pharmaceuticals, agro-alimentary products, food supplements and cosmetics.

 For more information on saffron extracts please contact us.