Is saffron worth the price?

For most saffron purists, the answer is no. It is, however, essential (and highly regarded) as a pigment.

In the late 1960s, British chemist William Stott came up with a simple technique for making saffron that would be cheap enough to sell in bulk to the cosmetics industry. By starting with the skin cells from a cow or goat, he was able to extract all of the essential oil.

In 1971, he tested the resulting material at his lab in London. It glistens and has good transparency and texture–something not entirely unlike modern saffron. He made a few batches and sent them to a chemist in Australia to confirm the purity and color. The chemist replied, “We can’t make it, can we?” Stott took the idea to the United States, where it was patented.

The US Patent Office published the patent in 1982, naming the technology as ‘Stott Method and Apparatus’, or ‘Sapphology’. The name may actually be a misnomer, however, since the substance that produces the shimmering effect is not saffron but a mineral called carvacrol. And it’s not just one of the world’s richest and most expensive plants: it’s also a very potent toxin. According to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, carvacrol is “more dangerous than cyanide and is banned almost everywhere except for medical use.”
URI researchers exploring potential for saffron production in ...

For the last 30 years, saffron sales have stagnated at about 2,000 tonnes in the US and Australia alone. The US and Australian governments don’t seem to have had much of an appetite for saffron. And, on top of that, there have been reports that some consumers were being poisoned by adulterated imported saffron and that several batches have disappeared from supermarket shelves in both countries.

The reason isn’t difficult to understand: because of the way that saffron is grown, the price of imported saffron falls and falls. As a result, prices are set so low the industry struggles to find suppliers and consumers aren’t aware of the problem.

The good news for you is that you don’t have to make your own saffron. There are many websites you can visit to get some in quantity from suppliers.

For the uninitiated, saffron is a yellowish-yellow color. The flowers in its fleshy, green leaves are similar to that of raspberries and can