Here’s Why Saffron Powder is so Delicious and Good for You

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Saffron powder is known for having a rich gold color along with an earthy, intense, and a fruity unique flavor (source). It’s used in many ways, such as saffron tea and saffron rice, along with many recipes of Indian cuisine.

Here you will discover everything you need to know about saffron and its health benefits.

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What is Saffron Powder?

Saffron powder is a spice used throughout history as a cooking agent, natural dye, and perfume (source). Use of Saffron dates back to The Bronze Age (3000-1200 B.C.) (source). It is said to have originated in Iran (source). The name saffron is derived from zafaran, an Arab word for yellow (source)

If you’ve ever looked at a flower, you’ve probably noticed a tall stem-like structure that protrudes from the center of the flower head. This is known as a stigma and style. Saffron powder comes from dried stigmas/styles of the Crocus sativus flowering plant (source).

In traditional medicine, saffron has helped with seizures, vomiting, insomnia, dental pain, liver disease, spasms, and many other ailments (source).

saffron threads displayed on a blue background

Iran is the leading producer of saffron today, followed by Greece, Italy, and Morocco (source). Spain produces pure Spanish saffron powder, which is difficult to find due to exporting limitations (source).

Saffron Powder vs. Saffron Threads

You can buy saffron in a powdered form where the whole stigma has been dried and ground into a fine powder. You can also purchase saffron in its whole dried form. These are the dried stigmas of the crocus flower (source). Saffron threads are about 1 inch long and red and orange colored (source).

red saffron powder and saffron threads displayed on a white background

Why is Saffron Powder so Expensive?

If spices were royal, then saffron would be king. This spice may taste nice but comes with a high price. Saffron powder is the most expensive spice in the world (source). Why? More than 225,000 saffron crocus flowers have to be gathered to produce one pound of saffron powder form (source).

Saffron Powder Nutrition

One tablespoon of Saffron has:

6Calories
1.4 gramsCarborhydrates
0.24 gramsProtein
0.12 gramsFat
0.08 gramsFiber
6 milligramsMagnesium

Saffron Powder Benefits

High in Antioxidants

Saffron powder is higher in carotenoids than tomatoes and carrots (source).

Carotenoids are a type of antioxidant that helps prevent inflammation and disease by fighting against harmful free radicals in the body. 

Crocin and crocetin are carotenoids found in saffron that give saffron its deep red color (source). Other antioxidants found in saffron are safranal and picrocrocin (source). Safranal reduces oxidative stress markers (source). The bitter taste and aroma of saffron comes from picrocrocin (source, source).

Improves Depression

In mice, crocin and safranal had anti-depressant effects (source). A double-blind placebo-controlled trial found that daily doses of saffron given for six weeks had a more significant impact on depression than the drug fluoxetine (source). Studies report a low to no toxicity level for saffron (source).

Anti-Cancer

Studies propose that saffron’s anti-cancer effects are attributed to its phytochemicals and carotenoids (source). Many studies exist today on these benefits. In a skin cancer study, saffron extract was orally administered and limited the growth of sarcoma tumors (source).

In human breast cancer cells, both saffron and crocetin prompted cell death (source). Cancer growth inhibition and cell death promotion were found in several other cancer types like cervical, bone marrow, and lung (source). One study recommended the use of crocetin for chemoprevention (source).

Helps Brain Health

In a 16-week placebo-controlled study on people with Alzheimer’s, one group received doses of encapsulated saffron and the other group a placebo (source). At the end of the study, the group that took saffron had significantly greater cognitive function (source).

Helps Digestive Health

One study found that crocin was protective against inflammation, oxidation, and injury to rats’ stomach lining (source). Another animal study found crocin suppressed colitis and cancer caused by colitis by reducing inflammatory markers (source). Saffron contains anti-ulcer properties as well (source).

saffron powder health benefits graphic

Cooking with Saffron Powder

Saffron powder has a bold, distinctive flavor and distinct color. Recipes that call for a pinch or small amounts of saffron because it doesn’t take much to flavor up your dish (source). You can be creative and use saffron powder in the entire dish if you like. 

It’s popular for its use in seafood dishes like paella (source). Tomato sauce, rice dishes, stew, and risotto are examples of savory dishes that may taste nice with saffron (source)

shrimp, clams, mussels and rice paella

Cooking with Saffron Threads

When cooking with saffron stigma threads, steep saffron threads in the heated liquid your recipe calls for, like water or vinegar (source). More flavor comes out of the threads the longer they steep in hot water (source).

You can also use the steeped threads in your recipe or let them dry again for future use (source). If you plan to use the threads in the recipe, you will need to ground saffron threads (source).

How to tell if Saffron is Authentic?

Because top quality saffron powder is so pricey, some saffron powders on the market aren’t pure saffron powder and lesser quality saffron.

If your saffron powder tastes like plastic or metallic, it may not be pure (source).

Highest quality saffron threads will turn the water a beautiful golden color when steeped (source).

Saffron threads should not be frayed or have a lot of pale streaking (source)

The authenticity of saffron is easier to determine when bought as threads (source). Sometimes turmeric and other spices like curry powder are used to stretch saffron powder products (source).

fine ground yellow saffron powder in a black jar

Where to Buy Saffron Powder

Authentic Spanish saffron powder and plain saffron threads may be available in grocery stores or specialty grocery stores. You can also purchase saffron online.

Is Saffron Gluten-Free?

Yes, saffron is free of gluten.

Is Saffron Vegan?

Yes, saffron is vegan-friendly.

Is Saffron Paleo?

Yes, saffron is paleo. 

Is Saffron Keto Friendly?

Yes, saffron is keto friendly.

Bottom Line

Saffron has a long history of medical uses, health benefits, and unique uses as dyes and perfumes. Its high antioxidant activity makes it crucial for disease prevention. Though it comes at a higher price, a pinch of saffron powder can go a long way in cooking. Saffron is suitable for all types of special diets.


saffron in a jar Pinterest Graphic

Authors

  • Lisa Hugh is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Leap Therapist. She has a Masters of Science in Healthcare Administration. As a a Food Sensitivity Expert, her passion is helping people with complex medical and nutrition needs find food and groceries that are safe and enjoyable. Lisa enjoys helping clients in her private practice.

  • Gabrielle McPherson is a Registered Dietitian and Freelance Writer. Gabrielle has a masters degree in Clinical Nutrition and a bachelors degree in Dietetics. She has worked extensively with pediatrics and works as a freelance health and nutrition writer.

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