Saffron

Saffron (CI Natural Yellow 6, CI No. 75100) is a very old colorant dating back to the twenty-third century b.c. It has come to be known as the "gourmet spice" because of its high price, but it also provides both spice and colorant. Saffron consists of the dried stigmas of the flowers of the crocus bulb, Crocus sativus, grown primarily in North Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Austria, Greece, and France. The high price is due to the fact that it takes about 150,000 flowers to produce 1 kg of colorant.

The pigments in saffron are chemically similar to those in annatto (Fig. 2). They are crocetin, a dicarboxylic carot-enoid, together with its gentiobioside ester. Gentiobioside is a diglucoside with a fi 1-6 linkage. The sugar portion confers solubility in water and makes the colorant very flexible in its applications to a variety of food and pharmaceutical products. The same pigments occur in a number of other plants but C. sativus is the only commercial source. The fruits of the Cape Jasmine, Gardenia jasmi-noides, produce the same pigments and have been suggested as an alternate source. But the gardenia fruits supply only the colorant, not the spice flavor, so the sources are quite different. Saffron extracts also contain (i-carotene, zeaxanthin, and traces of several other carote-noids.

Saffron preparations are fairly stable to light, oxidation, microbiological attack, and changes in pH. Overall, technically it is a good colorant with high tinctorial strength. Its strength is usually judged by its carotenoid content as measured by the absorption of an aqueous extract at 440 nm, but Alonso et al. (4) suggested that tristimulus methods were more appropriate for classifying samples of saffron.

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