Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the "saffron crocus". The red gold threads are collected and dried and commonly used as a seasoning and coloring agent in food. Packed with antioxidants a number of health benefits, saffron is turning up in the powder segment.
Pharmactive Biotech Products, S.L. will debut their all-natural, non-GMO Spanish saffron extract in the US market, launching Affron at SupplySide West. The company said their formulation contains the lowest dosage threshold on the market, 28mg per day.
The company says it controls the full supply chain. Pharmactive grows and cultivates the saffron in its fields within the terrain of Castilla-La-Mancha in Spain. The arid plains and dry, warm Mediterranean climate of the region present ideal conditions for the cultivation of the botanical.
Alberto Espinel, Head of R&D of Pharmactive, said “The company’s saffron is home grown and manufactured in their extraction plant in Madrid. The optimized extraction process employed ensures the highest concentration of saffron’s active Lepticrosalides.”
“Crocus sativus L. species has been cultivated and consumed for centuries in Spain and its culinary and beneficial values have been long appreciated,” said Julia Diaz, Marketing Manager of Pharmactive. "The golden threads of the saffron plant are worth nearly their weight in gold, due in part to their labor-intensive harvesting method. During the short eight weeks in autumn when they bloom, the flowers must be carefully hand-picked, one at a time, and within a few hours between dawn and midday to avoid wilting of the delicate stigmas that form the saffron threads.”
The caviar of spice
Indeed, saffron has long been the world's most costly spice by weight. According to Business Insider, to generate just one pound of saffron, 170,000 flowers must be hand-picked. The flowers only bloom over a 6-week period from late September to early December and there’s also a specific time of day to harvest them. The wholesale price of a pound of saffron can vary from as little as $500 to as much as $5,000, with retail prices anywhere from $5,000 per pound to $10,000 per pound.
With such a steep price tag, it’s no wonder the botanical is susceptible to counterfeiting. Pharmactive said they have established a range of quality control procedures, including active compound quantification, meticulous adulteration detection measures such as DNA certification from Canada True-ID, as well as microbiological and contaminant analysis to ensure consistent quality of its formulation.
“We work in close cooperation with our saffron farmers, respecting the cultural heritage of this exceptional region. Their innate knowledge of saffron and how to optimally produce and harvest it using no fertilizer is key to Pharmactives unmatched quality offering,” notes Espinel.
“Furthermore, we conduct strict quality controls internally and externally through certified third parties,” emphasized Espinel. “These meticulous measures provide full traceability and allow a wholly trusted source of saffron."
Diaz told NutraIngredients-USA that what sets Affron apart from other extracts is its high standards of quality and clinical endorsement. She said this is the first saffron extract that can point to five published clinical studies that demonstrate its effectiveness in mood, relaxation and sleep quality. It’s also the first saffron extract clinically studied in adolescents, as well as the first saffron extract studied in combination with antidepressants, showing a safety profile and even reducing side effects from antidepressants and increasing their effectiveness.
Affron is water-soluble and readily applicable to food formats or supplements. It is kosher and halal certified, non-GMO, non-irradiated, and has a three-year shelf-life.
Pharmactive said Affron is an ideal option for athletes to who desire a relaxed state of mind during competitive sports. The ingredient is also included in menopause and libido enhancement formulas. Another brand, AffronEYE, targets eye care, which took home the Nutraingredients-Asia award for healthy aging last month.
Diaz told NutraIngredients the saffron market isn’t very big because it is a relatively new market, but it targets some of the largest categories in the US: mood enhancement, anxiety reduction and sleep.
In the report, “Saffron Market: Global Industry Analysis and Opportunity Assessment, 2016-2026,” Future Market Insights projects that rising demand for plant-based natural ingredients is driving the saffron consumption. In 2016, more than $200 million worth of saffron threads were consumed across the US, China, Iran, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Germany, Italy, Spain, France and the UK.
By the end of 2026, over $90 million worth of saffron powder is expected to be consumed by Americans alone.