Differentiate saffron, crocin and their supplements for health benefits

Saffron, the dried red stigmas of Crocus sativus L, has been the most expensive spice and used as a medical herb for over 3000 years. Saffron was widely used for healing various medical conditions in traditional Persian, Indian, Chinese, and European medieval medicines.

Today, there is a growing body of evidence from clinical and preclinical studies that saffron and particularly its active constituent crocin may have powerful effects on improving and supporting memory, focus, visual acuity, mood, eye, cognitive and overall health.

About 100 clinical and many more preclinical studies of saffron and crocin have been published in the past 20-30 years. Results of these studies have shown saffron and crocin supplementation could markedly improve health and quality of life. Crocin is the most important constituent and primarily responsible for the health effects of saffron.

However, there are big differences in quality and content of crocin in saffron, saffron extract, and crocin ingredient used in supplements. These saffron and crocin related supplements use very different ingredients, from watered-down saffron ingredient, whole flower extract, saffron itself, to purified crocin which is the most important active constituent in saffron. Therefore, it is wise to know saffron and crocin and differentiate among the many confusing saffron related supplements so one can select the right products.

Saffron is an expensive commodity and has been known to be subjected to frequent adulteration since the Middle Ages10. Quality of saffron, just as any plant material, varies significantly. Generally, saffron is graded primarily according to content of crocin by photo spectroscopic readings. There is an ISO method and slightly different methods to scale grading of saffron from Iran and Spain. Iran is the leading saffron producer, accounting for 80-90% of worldwide commercial saffron supply. The four Iranian grades, Sargol, Negin, Pushal and Bunch, are set according to the cut of saffron filaments. Negin is considered the highest quality, followed by Sargol, Pushal and Bunch. In Spain, saffron is scaled into five grades, Coupe, La Mancha, Rio, Standard, and Sierra, with Coupe as the best Spanish saffron and Sierra the lowest one. Despite the different grading methods, the criteria is the same thing. The higher the grade reflects the higher content of crocin and the higher quality.

Many of the saffron related supplements on the market are filled with watered-down saffron ingredients and falsely claimed as “saffron extract”. Extract, by definition, is a preparation containing the active ingredient of a substance in concentrated form. But these watered-down “saffron extracts” are produced in opposite ways by adding large amounts of fiber or carrier to dilute the content without specifying the content of crocin. Other "saffron extracts" are extracted from not the stigmas but the whole flower. Products filled with such diluted ingredients hardly provide the effects or benefits of saffron for its users.

One brand named “saffron extract”, is produced by adding 5 to 6 times by weight of microcrystalline cellulose carrier in the middle of extraction process and ending up with only about 16% of saffron material, a deviation from normal extraction process.

To evaluate if this “saffron extract” provide claimed health effects in reducing snacking and increasing satiety in healthy women, a study at Hofstra University found that intake supplements with 176.5mg per day of this brand named “saffron extract” did not have any detectable beneficial effects on body weight management.

Through a simple comparison to the cost of saffron on the same weight base as shown in Table 1, one can easily tell if a supplement is filled with such watered-down “saffron extract”.

Table 1


Saffron Supplement

(60 counts/bottle)



At Costco:


“Saffron extract”:

88.25-88.5 mg per capsule

Low price products with 88.25-88.5mg of “saffron extract” per capsule use watered-down material.


Better to buy saffron than the supplement.

Net weight

5 grams

5.3 grams (60 x 0.08825g = 5.3g)

Sale price based on 5g






From the table above, one can tell, unless filled with “watered-down” material, a bottle of saffron supplement with 60 capsules (88.5mg/capsule) can’t be produced and offered at much lower price to have a comparable amount of real saffron.

Based on this comparison, selection of saffron from reputable suppliers over some saffron supplements would be a better choice. Since crocin is the most important active constituent in saffron and primarily responsible for saffron health effects. The smartest choice is to look for products that offer sufficient and quantitative amounts of crocin.


For more information, please see other Blogs and News in website: https://saffronhealthsci.com.


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