The 1 Spice You Should Always Smell Before Using

It reveals a lot about its quality.
Ahmani Vidal via Getty Images

There are three things I find impressive now I’m in my late 20s that I never thought I’d be wowed by; 1) having a good sleep routine, 2) owning a tumble dryer, and 3) possessing an extensive and varied spice collection.

Those who agree with me will know that saffron, the notoriously pricey spice, is usually the crowning jewel of most spice lovers’ collections.

But you might not have known that the spenny strands are often faked ― and you can tell the difference between the legit and fake kinds with just a sniff.


I know! It all has to do with how expensive the spice is ― the substance is more expensive by weight than gold.

Arash Ghalehgolabbehbahani, a research associate at the University of Vermont, explained to Business Insider that “to harvest the saffron, you need a lot of labourers to pick up the flowers, separate — saffron is dehydrated or dry stigma.”

The flowers only bloom for six weeks in the year; their stigmas can only be picked at certain times of the day they each yield very little saffron; and a lot of work is involved.

“You’ll need to hand-pick 170,000 flowers to create just one pound of saffron,” Business Insider revealed.

So it’s no wonder that a 2010 study found, of saffron strands sold in India, “52% are genuine, 30% are poor grade, and 17% are adulterated.”

Multiple later studies
suggest this type of fraud is “mushrooming as a white-collar fraud at a tremendous pace.”

Wow. So... how can I tell real versus fake saffron?

Well, as we’ve said earlier, real saffron has a distinctive scent; fake saffron does not.

The University of Leicester says, “One of the key ways to tell real saffron from a fake is its distinct smell – while fake saffron will have almost no aroma, the smallest amount of genuine saffron will have a characteristic smell.”

Real saffron’s smell is described as earthy, floral, and slightly sweet; fake kinds may smell of nothing, or have a chemical or grassy smell.

There are other methods of testing real saffron against the fake kinds, too.

“Placing a few threads in hot water is the best way to test your saffron,” Tasting Table says.

“Fake saffron will give up its color quickly as red dye leaches from the substance, and the threads will often disintegrate. Real saffron will colour the water slowly; the water may take as long as 20 or even 60 minutes to acquire the golden hue from genuine crocus stigmas.”

The truth of the saffron is in the smelling, as they don’t, but definitely should, say...