Saffron In Perfumery – The Most Expensive Spice In The World

In the following, we delve into the aromatic world of saffron — a mesmerizing spice with an incredibly rich history and exotic allure. Explore why it’s one of the most expensive spices in the world, and how its fragrance weaves an aromatic magic into the realm of perfumery, igniting passions and enchanting senses like none other.


Why Is Saffron So Expensive?

Saffron’s true origins are shrouded in mystery, and are perhaps lost forever to the mists of time.

Historians believe, however, that it most likely originated in ancient Iran where written records note that it was revered  for its medical properties. It was known to elevate mood, enhance libido and improve memory.

In fact, early Greek and Roman civilizations used saffron, known as red gold, in perfumery, and on the island of Rhodes, Greeks wore pouches of saffron to mask their body scents.

Cut to modern times, and you’ll find that saffron is literally the most costly spice in the world. One pound (450 grams) costs between $500 and $5,000. Its exorbitant price concerns the labor-intensive methods by which it is harvested.

Hand picked from the Crocus sativus flower, also known as Saffron crocus, the word itself applies to the thread-like structures called stigma.

Each saffron flower contains three stigmata, and once they and their red pistils are separated from the plant, their color and flavor are preserved by a drying process.

Saffron Flower

Only a small portion of the flower is actually used, and 75,000 saffron flowers are required in order to create one single pound of saffron spice! 

Saffron is indigenous to Mediterranean regions and western Asia. Iran is the world’s top producer, although the plant is also a cash crop of Spain, Greece, Morocco and the Kashmir sector of India.

Elderly women are often the workers who separate the saffron stigmata from the crocus flowers. This is tedious and strenuous work, as it must be done by hand because there are no machines that can separate these three delicate parts from the flower.

Saffron’s Unique Place In Perfumery

For modern manufacturers and purveyors of perfume like Alpha Aromatics, there is no substitute for the potency and distinctive character of saffron.

Its olfactory profile is striking and compelling, and its warm, exotic allure conjures images of the Middle East deep within the mind’s all-seeing eye.

A mysterious, spicy, sensual and elusive scent, saffron is known to add depth and character to any perfume. A fragrant fixative, it is often combined with lush vanilla and warm, honeyed amber to become an exotic, luxurious signature fragrance.

Saffron’s unique, luxurious character is both earthy and spicy at the same time. While most often found in fragrances for men, it is also an ingredient in some perfumes designed for women.

Feminine Fragrances

Within the families indicated on that iconic fragrance wheel, our master perfumers have a wide berth when including saffron because it works well with most of them.

It is ideal when meshed with notes of spicy cinnamon, hot clove, chypre (woody), ambery and floral notes, such as: musky rose and raspberry nuanced iris. 

A Few More Interesting Facts About Saffron

1. The Name Saffron Is Arabic In Origin

From the Arabic word, zafaran, which translates into yellow, this is the official color of the Buddhist robes in India.

2. Saffron Was Prized in Ancient Rome

According to Pliny, the public halls and baths of Imperial Rome were often scented with saffron, and it was the most frequently fabricated commodity of its time. 

3. Saffron Is A Sterile Plant

Reproduction without human intervention is difficult at best. This is because new plants are grown via a monotonous process that involves digging up and replanting the bulb-like part of the stem, which is known as the corm.

4. Cleopatra Bathed In Saffron

The Queen of the Nile was known to bathe in saffron-infused mare’s milk, which she believed bronzed her skin and enhanced her sexual allure.

The milk contained lactic acid, which was considered to be a skin exfoliate, and saffron also provided an extra appeal as a body perfume.

5. Alexander The Great Loved Saffron

The famed ruler of Macedonia enjoyed soaking in saffron-soaked water.

He believed it would heal his battle wounds. He had learned about the wondrous ingredient from Cyrus the Great, and his faith in saffron as a healing cure strengthened with every treatment.

He recommended its use to all of his army.

6. The Theft of Saffron Caused a European War

In the 1300’s, a ship headed for Basil, Switzerland, and laden with 800 pounds of saffron, was stolen by European nobles and landed gentry.

This caused a war that lasted for 14 weeks until the shipment was returned.

7. Standards Of Saffron Quality Vary From Nation to Nation

Based on aroma, color and flavoring, each country has its own standard for evaluating and classifying saffron.

Like many things and proclamations in life, not all saffron is created equal. 

Various strengths and grades are determined by the degree to which the yellow stamen of the flower is still attached to the stigma.

For our master perfumers at Alpha Aromatics, understanding and respecting the quality of saffron is vital to their fine formulations. 

8. Saffron Is Found In The Myths of Ancient Greece 

One Greek legend links the Greek goddess, Aurora, to the saffron crocus. In the writings of Ovid, she was referred to as the Saffron Mother.

The golden robes of the goddess are also found in The Illiad where Homer claims she places her saffron robes over the earth to cover it and protect it.

9. Saffron And Its Medicinal Properties

Believed to heal wounds as mentioned earlier, saffron is rich in antioxidants, which help cells combat damage and may prevent disease.

Research is ongoing, but there are some indications that saffron’s ingredients may be healthy for the brain and nervous system.

As an ingredient in herbal tea, it is said to aid digestion, and when used as a massage cream, it soothes minor aches and pains.

10. Altering Saffron Was Once A Crime Punishable By Death 

During the Middle Ages, the harsh sentence of being buried alive was enacted if a merchant was found guilty of altering the purity of saffron by adding foreign materials that would increase the weight and thereby its cost.

A Few of Our Saffron-Infused Fragrances

The following are among the most popular Alpha Aromatics fragrances containing saffron.

Love Affair Diffuser Oil

Light airy notes mark the onset of this sexy, wild and robust fragrance.

Love Affair Diffuser Oil with Saffron

These facets soon fade into a rich multi-layered heart and dry down marked by rich, haunting jasmine earthy, marine ambergris, smooth, inviting saffron and deep, warm cedar wood. 

Tangelo Tuberose

Spicy, peppery leafy green and light, shimmering dewy sparkle stream through the head notes of this alluring scent.

These facets soon fall away and into a floral heart of sweet, intoxicating, night-blooming jasmine ,tropical, spicy plumeria and powdery, woody white iris.

A spicy dry down of burnt, piquant charred clove, heavy, pungent cumin and cozy, intimate saffron complete this complex, glorious scent.

Wild Saffron And Amber

A refreshing floral/ fruity bouquet featuring notes that stream with tart, rich rhubarb, zesty lime and the cozy, soft and secret warmth of saffron.

A heart of herbal, green geranium, rich, pungent banana-nuanced ylang ylang, smooth, sweet-smelling lavender, dusty violet and intense jasmine. 

This fragrance finishes with a dry down of erotic musk, musty vetiver, potent, dark patchouli and earthy, honeyed amber.

Zanzibar Spice And Iris

Potent, spicy and peppery leafy green and moist, shiny dewy sparkle initiate this floral/spicy amalgam.

These facets soon drift into a fragrant heart featuring intense and ambrosial night-blooming jasmine, soft, peachy plumeria and earthy, powdery white iris.

The scent completes with a spicy dry down marked by aspects of hot, piquant charred clove, warm, aromatic and heavy dried cumin and soft, intimate saffron.

In Conclusion

If you are the manager or owner of a commercial enterprise seeking a new signature scent or a special saffron-inspired fragrance for a specific new product or product line, call our teams today!

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