Saffron, A Functional Spice

Special Article - Antioxidants in Foods

Austin J Nutri Food Sci. 2015;3(1): 1059.

Saffron, A Functional Spice

Anastasia Kyriakoudi1, Stella A Ordoudi1, Marta Roldán-Medina2 and Maria Z Tsimidou1*

1School of Chemistry, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTh), Greece

2EU & International Projects Promoter, Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha (UCLM), Spain

*Corresponding author: Tsimidou MZ, School of Chemistry, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, 54124, Thessaloniki, Greece

Received: February 27, 2015; Accepted: April 20, 2015; Published: April 27, 2015


Saffron, the dehydrated red stigmas of the flower of the plant Crocus sativus L., comprises the most expensive spice in the world. It is mainly used as a spice highly valued for its coloring power, bitter taste and unique aroma attributed primarily to crocins, picrocrocin and safranal, respectively. Apart from its known applications in the food industry, a number of pharmacological actions have been assigned to saffron and its constituents. Expansion of the use of natural products in the prevention of chronic diseases or cancer as well as the interest in functional foods is expected to attract the attention of consumers to include saffron in everyday diet. Only authentic high quality saffron exerts beneficial health effects.

Keywords: Saffron; Crocus sativus L.; Apocarotenoids; Authenticity; Antioxidant activity


AP-1: Activator Protein 1; CNS: Central Nervous System; DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid; FRAP: Ferric Reducing Antioxidant Power; GSH: Glutathione Peroxidase; i.p.: Intraperitoneally; LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein; MDA: Malondialdehyde; NFκB: Nuclear Factor Kappa B; NO: Nitric Oxide; NSAIDs: Non-Steroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs; p.o.: Per Os (by mouth); ROS: Reactive Oxygen Species; SOD: Superoxide Dismutase


Saffron is comprised of the dehydrated red stigmas of the flower of the plant Crocus sativus L. (Figure 1A), a sterile triploid that belongs to the subfamily Crocoideae of the Iridaceae family [1]. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world, highly valued in different cuisines for its distinctive color, exceptional taste and unique aroma. The compounds that elicit yellow color hues are certain highly water-soluble apocarotenoids, the sugar esters of crocetin (8,8'-diapocarotene-8,8'-dioic acid), selectively named as crocins. The trans-crocetin (di-β-d-gentiobiosyl) ester (trans-4-GG), commonly referred as crocin, is the most abundant member. The gustatory traits of the spice are given by the monoterpene glucoside, picrocrocin [4-(β-D-glucopyranosyloxy)-2,6,6-trimethyl–1– cyclohexane–1-carboxaldehyde] (bitterness) and certain volatiles, e.g. safranal (2,6,6-trimethyl-1,3-cyclohexadiene-1-carboxaldehyde) (aroma) [2]. Recently, light was shed on the biosynthetic pathway of these apocarotenoids through transcriptome sequencing [3]. The precursor of saffron apocarotenoids is considered to be zeaxanthin that through successive cleavages give rise to the formation of crocetin and 3-OH-ββ-cyclocitral, which are then glucosylated to yield crocins and picrocrocin, respectively. These apocarotenoids accumulate throughout the development of stigmas, reach a maximum concentration at a fully developed stage and decrease thereafter, a fact that justifies traditional collection practices [4]. Crocins and picrocrocin account for nearly 50 % (w/w) in dried stigmas. The moisture content of the latter is much lower and ranges between 9-12 %. Safranal is mainly formed during processing and storage and represents ca. 70% of the essential oil of the spice [5]. The chemical structures of the mentioned compounds are given in Figure 1B.

Citation: Kyriakoudi A, Ordoudi SA, Roldán-Medina M and Tsimidou MZ. Saffron, A Functional Spice. Austin J Nutri Food Sci. 2015;3(1): 1059. ISSN: 2381-8980.