Even though the commonly known names of these two plants are quite similar, the plants themselves could not be more different in their botanical aspects.
Saffron or Crocus sativus belongs to a whole other plant family than Safflower or Carthamus tinctorius.
Both of these plants have culinary uses with distinct and unique characteristics.
But Saffron has become a target for adulteration, and Safflower is used as one of those substitutes or alternatives that are packaged and sold in the name of Saffron.
In this blog, we are going to unravel the reason behind this golden rivalry of “Safflower vs. Saffron”, the two titans of the spice world.
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Getting to Know the Spices – Saffron Vs Safflower
In the world of spices, hues, and culinary traditions, both Safflower and Saffron stand out.
Both boast vibrant colors in similar sunset shades and provide flavors that elevate dishes to another level. Due to the similarities in names and sometimes looks, they are often confused with each other.
Saffron: The Red Gold
Crocus sativus is a part of the Iridaceae family. Often referred to as the golden essence, Organic Kesar (Hindi name) holds a prestigious and luxurious status in the world of spices. It is revered for its distinct flavor, captivating aroma, and vibrant red color.
Exquisite Harvesting Process: The corm produces deep and vibrant purple flowers which are hand-harvested to retrieve saffron threads.
The saffron strands are derived from the delicate stigmas. The production of Saffron is a labor-intensive and intricate process. The precious threads are separated by hand, with each flower yielding only 3-4 strands.
Culinary Use and distinctive flavor and aroma: Saffron imparts a unique flavor profile characterized by its subtle floral notes and earthy undertones.
It has a mesmerizing aroma that adds a layer of depth, exotic feel, and complexity to a wide range of dishes, including paellas, risottos, biryanis, pulaos, teas, milk, and desserts.
Cultural Significance: Saffron holds deep cultural and culinary significance across various cultures and cuisines. It has been prized for centuries in Persian, Indian, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern culinary traditions, where it is used to elevate both savory and sweet dishes.
Health Benefits: Saffron is one of the most researched plants for its medicinal properties, from having anti-sun properties to being a rich antioxidant. It has also proven helpful for pregnant ladies having tough pregnancies. Apart from this it also has anti-carcinogenic properties.
Safflower: The lesser-Known Jewel
Carthamus tinctorius is a flowering plant belonging to the Asteraceae family, native to regions of The Middle East and Asia. While Kusum (Hindi name) has a long history of cultivation, it often flies under the radar.
Appearance and Cultivation: The safflower plant boasts bright yellow, orange or red flowers, similar in appearance to sunflower and dandelions. It is primarily cultivated for its oil-rich seeds, which have various industrial and culinary applications.
Culinary Uses: Safflower in the culinary world is used in the form of its seed oil. It is known for its mild to neutral flavor profile and high-smoke point. It is suitable for frying and cooking at high temperatures. It is healthier than some alternatives due to its high levels of unsaturated fats.
Health Benefits: Rich in Linoleic acid, safflower oil is believed to offer multiple health benefits such as promoting heart health, reducing inflammation, and helping in weight management.
Also Read: How To Use Saffron? 8 Unique Ways
Safflower vs. Saffron: Key Differences in Culinary Applications
While both products share vibrant colors and floral origins, safflower and saffron serve distinct purposes in the culinary world:
- Color: Saffron infuses a rich reddish-golden hue to the dishes or beverages it is added to, while safflower contributes a pale yellow tint to foods.
- Flavor and Aroma: Safflower does not have a distinct flavor or smell making it a more neutral additive, while saffron has a peculiar aroma and depth in its flavor.
- Cost and Availability: Saffron is significantly and evidently more expensive than any safflower product and it is less abundant.
Also Read: What Does Saffron Taste Like?
Safflower as an Adulterant in Saffron
The main debate of safflower vs saffron arises because safflower is sometimes used as an adulterant in saffron. After all, it shares certain visual similarities with saffron threads. The adulteration of saffron is due to its high market value. Saffron is one of the most targeted products for fraudulent practices.
Methods such as adding foreign materials (biological, artificial, or synthetic adulterants) that have a similar appearance to Saffron are employed by cheaters to maximize profit and delude the customers and consumers.
Also Read: Saffron Indian Cuisine: 10 Best Dishes
Adding similar-looking plants like Calendula officinalis L., Buddleja officinalis Maxim., Gardenia jasminoides Ellis., Curcuma longa L., and Carthamus tinctorius L or Safflower, and mixing with low-quality saffron or adding various parts of the saffron plant such as petals and stamens or even other species of crocus are common fraudulent practices.
How Safflower is Used in the Adulteration of Saffron?
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Similar Appearance: Safflower petals can resemble saffron threads, especially when they are dried and mixed with saffron. This allows exploitative sellers to bulk up their saffron supply with cheaper safflower petals.
Cost Difference: Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world, while safflower is considerably cheaper. By mixing safflower with saffron, dishonest sellers can increase their profits while offering what appears to be pure saffron.
Weight and Volume: Adding safflower to saffron increases the overall weight and volume of the product, which can deceive consumers into thinking they are getting more saffron for their money.
Also Read: Saffron Tea: The Aromatic Delight
How to Tell if Safflower Has Been Mixed in Your Saffron?
Safflower is sometimes packaged and sold as Portuguese saffron to unsuspecting consumers, whether being sold as whole saffron threads, as an additive, or in the form of saffron powder.
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Below are some ways by which you can tell Safflower apart:
At first glance, dried Saffron threads and dried safflower petals might look similar, but there are a few differences that become evident upon closer inspection. Kesar or saffron filament is a delicate, dark-red stigma measuring just a few millimeters long.
On the other hand safflower petals will have a folded edge to them due to shrinkage upon drying.
Regarding color, Saffron provides a vibrant, deep red hue resembling sunsets and releases color rather slowly. On the other hand, safflower produces vibrant yellow and orange petals which produce a very pale yellow shade but when mixed with other dye chemicals gives instant coloration.
The flavor of saffron and safflower could not be more different. Saffron adds depth and warmth to the dishes with floral tones. And Safflower lacks flavor. It is almost tasteless or really mild to neutral.
To avoid falling victim to these scams, consumers should only buy saffron from reputable sources. It is important to educate oneself about the properties and characteristics of saffron including, but not limited to its flavor, smell, taste, and price.
Also Read: Why is saffron expensive? | Top 3 Reasons
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Hey, Kashmirica brings in the finest Saffron from Kashmir to you. Check it out today!
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Mir Saeid is the Growth Hacker of Kashmirica, a brand that is poised to ‘Bring Exclusives from Kashmir to You’. An enthusiastic cultural entrepreneur, he is driven by a passion to bring about a social impact. He has a Masters in International Business from the University of Bedfordshire and has worked in leading Marketing positions at various SMEs and Startups for 8+ years.
Intrigued by the crafts of his birthplace, he decided to bring the art on the Global Connoisseur through the internet. A polyglot who speaks English, Arabic, Urdu & Koshur, Mir loves traveling, reading, writing, and spending time on the cricket field – a passion rekindled just recently.