Saffron is the latest on-trend flavour for packaged food, adding intense colour, an exotic flavour and premium appeal, according to market research agency Mintel.
Saffron’s growing appeal stems from booming international travel and its use by culinary chefs, meaning consumers are more exposed than ever to different types of cuisine.
“The time has come to add saffron to consumer packaged goods, such as condiments, sauces, soups, stews, teas, side dishes, entrees [main meals] and even desserts,” writes Kathleen Kennedy, global food and drink analyst at Mintel in an online blog.
The handpicked stigma of the blue crocus flower, saffron’s premium reputation comes from its premium price tag.
One freshly picked flower produces just 7 mg of dried saffron and around 150 flowers are needed to produce just one gram of dried threads, according to the New Zealand Institute for Crop and Food Research.
This makes it the most expensive spice in the world. However, according to Kennedy, this does not necessarily mean prohibitive costs for food manufacturers.
“Saffron’s real potential lies in its ability to make a dish seem premium, luxurious and exotic. Luckily, it takes only a small amount of this extravagant spice to impart its complex flavour, subtle aroma, and eye-catching colour.”
Kennedy also picked out some new product launches using the spice from around the world.
Notable European offerings included French brand L’Apéro du Poissonnier’s Black Sea Bream Rillettes with Saffron grown in the northern French region of Brittany. Rillettes are a traditional spread that is eaten with bread or as a dip.
Swedish brand Paulúns launched a microwavable, vegetable-based superbowl of pepper, artichoke and other vegetables, flavoured with saffron and
Italian food maker SouperItaly launched a ready-made fresh Fennel and Saffron soup. Demonstrating that the spice works equally well in sweet foods, Swiss brand 1001 Delights launched pistachio and saffron ice cream.
The beverage category also has a lot of potential, Kennedy added. Recent saffron-flavoured drink launches include peach rose water with saffron, green and spiced teas with saffron, organic saffron beer, honey rum liquor with saffron and classic Arabic coffee with cardamom and saffron.
Earlier this year, ingredient supplier Kerry also predicted saffron to be a top ‘gourmet’ ingredient trend, along with raclette, salted cured egg yolks, activated charcoal, bottarga, jersualem artichokes, black salt and majambo.
According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Iran produces 85% of the world’s saffron supply. Other producing countries include Spain (which holds second place in terms of global production), Iran, Afghanistan and Greece.
However, in terms of quality, the FAO said saffron grown in the Indian region of Kashmiri is considered to be far superior to that grown elsewhere in the world.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, saffron’s position as the most expensive spice in the world, also makes it vulnerable to fraud.
Earlier this year, the French anti-fraud authority DGCCRF conducted testing in the spices industry and found that saffron was the spice which presented “the most anomalies”.
One saffron item sold as “fleur de safran”, for instance, was made of 100% safflower.