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A guide to saffron grading


A guide to saffron grading


We are often asked questions about saffron grading, and this article is intended to give an overview of saffron grading and the difference between saffron grades.

Technically, saffron grading is governed by ISO 3632 which prescribes 4 grades based on several elements but significantly upon the measurement of spectroscopic absorbance of chemicals across the 3 dimensions of colour (crocine), aroma (safranal), and flavour (picocrocine).

Colouring power is the lead indicator as the other chemicals tend to occur in proportion to colour, and is measured on a scale as follows :

Grade I : > 190

Grade II :  >150

Grade III : >110

Grade IV : less than 110


Sargol quality Persian saffron is grade 1 according to ISO 3632 which means that it exceeds the colour absorbance measure of 190.  In fact most sargol quality saffron is well into the 200’s.

 To understand why the red colour is important one must visualise the crocus flower :

 Crocus Sativus Flower

See those 3 tiny red threads.  That is the stigma of the flower.  These 3 stigma have to be picked by hand without getting mixed up with any of that yellow stamen you can see right next to them.  A labour intensitve job, and a very expensive process.

Not only that, but below is an image of a crocus sativus stigma itself.  You can see that the 3 red stigma join at the bottom into a yellow style.  Again, a top quality saffron needs the 3 red stigma to be plucked away from the yellow style.  Also a very labourious and expensive process.

Crocus Sativus Filament


The more yellow in your saffron the more you know that it has been harvested cheaply with not much attention to quality, because it contains styles and stamens.  The proportion of yellow threads to red stigma is a large determinant of saffron quality, and a significant driver of price.

Grade 1 Persian saffron is 100% red stigmas with no yellow stamens, and no styles, and since there is no mechanical means of separating the yellow, it has to be done by hand and this is the reason why top quality saffron is expensive to buy.

Spanish saffron is graded under a different scale, and Spanish saffron is seldom subject to testing ISO 3632.   A similar colouring scale is used, but Spanish saffron grades and name are different :

Coupe : >190

La Mancha : 180 - 190

Rio :  150 - 180

Standard : 110 – 150

Sierra : less than 110


An interesting story, the top Spanish grade is called Coupe which actually comes from the French verb couper (to cut).  In days gone by the French chefs became so frustrated with the Spaniards selling them poor quality saffron that they demanded that the Spanish saffron dealers cut the tips of the saffron stigma off of the yellow style.  The name stuck and to this day the highest quality Spanish saffron is still called Coupe (meaning the red tips have been cut from the yellow styles).


Sargol grade saffron, on the other hand, contains only red stigmas, and no styles or stamens - the equivalent of the European coupe grade.  Colouring is the first most important indicator when determining saffron quality, the other two indicators are dryness and aroma.

The sargol saffron is dry and brittle, never soft or spongy, and it has a fresh pungent aroma.  Lower quality saffron tends to have a higher moisture content because it hasn't been properly dried.  The yellow stamens actually absorb moisture and dont allow the saffron to dry, and can also give it a musty smell.  Spanish saffron is often toasted before use for this reason.  

Moist saffron weighs more than dry saffron, and styles and stamens (which are basically worthless) can contribute up to 30% of a saffron's weight if they are not removed.  These are two of the main reasons why lower quality saffron can be sold cheaply yet profitably by unscrupulous saffron dealers.

At Saffrondust we are extremely passionate about the quality of our Persian Saffron.  We only deal in sargol grade 1 Persian saffron nothing else.

Our sourcing policy means you are guaranteed the highest quality saffron every time you buy from us, and we stand by our quality with our 100% satisfaction guarantee.  

Please browse our range at and know that you can shop online with the security of knowing that you are buying the best quality branded Iranian saffron, sourced direct from the manufacturer.  




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