Fresh saffron is not the same as fresh produce. Saffron threads are not sold right after being plucked from the saffron flower. Saffron threads need to be properly dehydrated to avoid mold and to
prolong its shelf life. Once the dehydration process is complete then the saffron is ready to be sold and it can be sold as a fresh saffron up to a year when the next crop becomes available.
Some saffron sellers are calling their saffron, fresh saffron, regardless of their saffron's age. On this site, fresh saffron means that the saffron is less than a year old and we proudly display its crop year on our label.
Look at the color of the saffron threads. They should be red. The darker the color red is the stronger the saffron’s coloring strength is. As the saffron gets older or exposed to sunlight the red color starts fading away and eventually the threads look bleached and will have a pale orange color.
Look at the color of saffron threads. If the threads have pale orange color, then the saffron is useless and you will be disappointed with the results.
Dying old saffron threads with dark red color, and then selling them as good quality saffron or mixing them with better quality saffron is very common.
There is a simple test called the “hot water test”. Pour some hot water over a few saffron threads in a white colored cup. Do not move the cup or the saffron threads during the test. If the color of the water becomes orange-red very quickly and stays that way for the next 5-10 minutes then most likely the color is from the dye. If the color of the water become very light orange and that orange color keeps getting stronger in the space surrounding the threads over 5-10 minutes, then that is the true color of the saffron and is not dyed. If you think that your saffron threads are mixed (some are dyed and some are not) pull out the suspicious threads and perform a separate test on them.
No matter how you store your saffron, you cannot stop it from getting old. Certain conditions in the environment where saffron is stored will accelerate the aging process. These conditions are heat, moisture, and light. Therefore, to get the most shelf life out of your saffron you need to store it in a cool, dry (use airtight container) and preferably dark place. Many chefs keep their saffron in their desk drawer and saffron stays just fine. You can store your saffron with other spices on the kitchen shelf but try to use it like any other spices within two years. Powdered saffron should be used within a year or sooner if they absorb moisture and become lumpy.
The quality of saffron is mostly measured by its coloring strength. Higher coloring strength means higher quality saffron. Generally, the coloring strength is presented by two or three digit number such as 95 or 180 or 235. The higher number represents higher quality saffron. According to ISO (International Organization for Standardization), any saffron with coloring strength of 190 and above is called GRADE I saffron. If you want to buy good quality saffron, buy grade 1 saffron.
Saffron is an easy spice to use when it comes to cooking. You do not need to be an experienced gourmet chef to use saffron. Use it in any dish, if you think it would improve the food's color /flavor/ aroma. Just throw a pinch of saffron in your cooking pot and experiment with this genie of spices. It will not ruin your food if you use it in a wrong dish. If you enjoy cooking with spices, in no time you will master it.