The 11 Types of Saffron (Plus 4 Grades to Choose From!)

Saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, actually has different types! Before you even mention it, I’m not talking about imitation here, okay? I’m talking about what kinds of saffron you can buy in the market—regardless of their rarity.

The 11 most known types of saffron are 1) Super Negin, 2) Negin, 3) Sargol, 4) Poushal, 5) Bunch, 6) Konj, 7) Kashmiri, 8) Greek, 9) Moroccan, 10) Spanish, and 11) Italian. Iran produces about 90% of the world’s entire supply of the spice, producing types like Super Negin and Sargol—both commonly categorized as Grade 1 saffron.

Most people put a high value on Persian saffron, in particular. However, what most folks don’t seem to know is that there are several types of it. Saffron from other parts of the world like Spain even has its own classification. I’ll be telling you all about it in this article!

1. Super Negin

Considered the highest quality type of saffron, the Super Negin is one of the most expensive and rarest of its kind. Super Negin has red threads about 0.5 in long.

Other names: Premium Negin, All-Red, Pure Saffron

Place of Origin: Iran

Average Length: Approx. 0.5–0.7 inches (1.5–2.0 cm)

Common Grade: Class I or Grade 1

Besides having a relatively short thread length, the Super Negin is generally obtained from the top portion of saffron threads. It has a deep red color and has no yellow or white parts.

This very same part of saffron filaments also contains the most amount of the main three compounds which give this red-gold spice its value—crocin, picrocrocin, and safranal. But I’ll talk more about them after I finish describing all the recognized saffron types there are.

In other words, the Persian Super Negin is among the—if not the—cream of the crop when it comes to saffron not just in Iran but all over the world.

Unfortunately, some people take advantage of the fact that not all people know how to identify a real Super Negin so they end up buying low-grade types that aren’t even Persian.

2. Negin

Similar to the Super Negin, the Persian Negin saffron is a high-quality spice consisting of only red threads. Each Negin thread is about 0.7 in.

Other names: Negin Cut

Place of Origin: Iran

Average Length: Approx. 0.7–0.9 inches (2–2.5 cm)

Common Grade: Class I or Grade 1

Just like the first type of Persian saffron, Negin also doesn’t have any yellow or white parts in its thread.

When cut from the whole filament, with all 3 stigmas still intact, the Negin saffron only retains the primarily red portion as well as a tiny red-orange part.

So, in comparison, the Negin is a bit longer than the Super Negin saffron—but not by a whole lot. At most, a Negin thread will be twice the length of one Super Negin thread.

However, when you put them up against each other in terms of quality, the Negin still loses against Super Negin. But in terms of color, taste, and smell, they’re quite comparable. Because of this, Negin is generally produced for export.

For the most part though, Negin only lags behind by a few points. This is why a good majority of Negin saffron is still categorized under Class I. Just keep in mind that this isn’t always the case, handling and packaging could lower its grade.

Taking all of these factors into consideration, it’s no wonder that Negin saffron is typically recognized as the second-best type available in the Market.

3. Sargol

The shortest of all red-threaded Persian saffron, Sargol only measures approximately 0.1 in. It is obtained from the very thick tips of saffron stigmas in Iran.

Other names: All-Red, Pure Saffron

Place of Origin: Iran

Average Length: Approx. 0.1–0.3 inches (0.5–1.0 cm)

Common Grade: Class I–II or Grade 1–2

From what I’ve said previously, you might think that the Sargol—top of the flower in English—has far superior quality than the first 2 saffron types I’ve mentioned.

Since they are from the topmost portion of the, it’s not uncommon for people to assume that the Persian Sargol is the best there is. You find most of its dyeing compounds and essential oils at the very top, right?

Actually, that isn’t the case. Despite generally being deep red and having no orange, yellow, or white parts, it’s considered to have a lower quality compared to Negin and Super Negin.

I mean, sure. Premium-quality hand-picked Sargol could compete with the two higher-class thread types. However, this is only true when the Sargol thread remains whole.

But most of the time, the Sargol saffron you’ll get your hands on will have a significant amount of broken threads. So although it does share several nicknames with Super Negin, it is often much less potent. Like Negin, however, this is widely exported from Iran too.

Having said that, if you were to find something comparable you could look for a higher-grade Spanish saffron. But let’s save that for later.

4. Poushal

Poushal, another Persian saffron, is among the longer types with lower grades. Measuring more or less 0.9 inches, its threads contain yellow parts of the style.

Other names: Poshal, Pooshal, Pushal, Pushali

Place of Origin: Iran

Average Length: Approx. 0.9–1.1 inches (2.5–3.0 cm)

Common Grade: Class I–III or Grade 1–3

Again, the Poushal is not that different from the previous types of saffron threads produced in Iran. It is still considered to have a generally moderate to high quality.

Similar to previous saffron types originating from Iran, Poushal threads are quite straight and fine. From time to time though, you’re likely to spot some wavy and curly threads here and there.

When put beside the Negin, only 2 differences will be picked up by your naked eye. First, the Poushal is longer. Second, 1–5 mm of its threads are yellow.

But as long as it is grown and harvested with great care, it can still fetch a high price and retain a good overall grading—the lowest generally only falls under Grade 3. More often than not though, it’s one of the most affordable types.

Other than that, most consumers find it easier to determine a fake saffron versus a real one when Poushal is used. Its natural color gradation from red to yellow is typically seen as a sign of authenticity.

5. Bunch

Of all Persian saffron, the Bunch is the longest at about 1.1 in. Besides the yellow part of the strand, it also has more or less 3–5 mm of the cream or white portion.

Other names: Dasteh, Dastehi, Dokhtar-Pich, Khooshe

Place of Origin: Iran

Average Length: Approx. 1.1–1.3 inches (2.5–3.5 cm)

Common Grade: Class II–IV or Grade 2–4

As its name suggests, Persian Bunch saffron threads are traditionally sold in bundles resembling sheaves of wheat, tied using a thin piece of string.

Being the longest of the Persian bunch (get it?), Dastehi saffron contains a lot less of the dark red stigma per ounce than mostly and all-red varieties. Ordinarily, about 70–90% of each thread is made up of stigma.

In effect, it also scores lower on overall coloring power, bitterness, and fragrance. This, in turn, earns it a lower grade and cheaper price as a direct result.

Depending on where you get it from—say, a credible producer vs an obscure shop—you could either get a passable Grade 2 Bunch saffron or a highly questionable “saffron” product.

6. Konj

Primarily made up of the style, Konj saffron threads are short, thin, and pale. It has 0.1-inch long filaments that are cream-colored.

Other names: Konge, Konche, Sefid, Style, Saffron Root, White Saffron

Place of Origin: Iran

Average Length: Approx. 0.1–0.5 inches (0.5–1.5 cm)

Common Grade: N/A

Even though it’s quite comparable in size to Sargol, the Konj can’t put up a good fight in terms of overall quality and value. Physically, it’s quite similar to regular Persian saffron besides the obvious lack of color.

In the rare case that a thread does have a bit of red left on it, it’s still not enough to boost the grade of the so-called “White” saffron.

So even if it contains some of its characteristic oils and compounds, it can’t be put under Class IV.

This, however, doesn’t mean that the Konj has no value at all. Of course, due to its lack of stigma, it has little to no dyeing power. Still, it does have some of that distinctly saffron taste and smell since it also has more moisture.

7. Kashmiri

India’s thick Kashmiri saffron threads are about 0.6-in long and purple-maroon-colored, which may have some of the styles on them. They are rich in aromatic compounds but also contain quite a bit of ash.

Other names: Kesar, Kong Posh, Kungumapoo, Urdu, Kashmir Saffron

Place of Origin: India

Average Length: Approx. 0.6–0.9 inches (1.7–2.5 cm)

Common Grade: Class or Grade I–IV

For a country known for having dishes rich in spices, it’s not surprising that India is also one of the top producers of saffron in the international trade for the highly sought-after spice.

What differentiates spices from herbs? Check our article to find out!

Despite its name, however, it isn’t cultivated in the Jammu and Kashmir region. This Indian saffron is also grown in Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh, both of which have ideal growing conditions for the variety.

Kashmiri saffron is broadly divided into 2 subtypes:

  1. Mongra: Stigma without the style
  2. Lacha: Stigma with some of the style

Mongra saffron is comparable to the Negin, whereas the Lacha is like the Poushal. Despite their physical similarities though, Kashmiri saffron generally grades lower than Persian ones.

There are 2 main reasons for this. Firstly, Kashmir saffron—on average—contains less volatile compounds than Persian saffron. Aside from that, it also contains much more ash per ounce. Both of these factors bring its market value down.

A 2014 report by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research states that the post-harvest practices of farmers are primarily responsible for the overall low grading of Kashmir saffron. 50–80% of Kashmir saffron fall under Grade 3, while less than 10% is Grade 1.

However, with improved harvesting, handling, and drying practices, Kashmir saffron can be on par with Super Negin in terms of quality and grading. In effect, its price can also be raised.

With strict adherence to such standards, up to 86% of all Kashmir saffron can be Grade 1. That’s an incredible improvement from a measly 0–8 % of the total harvest!

8. Greek

Krokos, the Greek saffron, has relatively long red-orange threads, averaging around 1.2 inches in length. This is because a portion of the style is commonly retained.

Other names: Krokos, Krokos Kozanis, Krocus, Red Saffron

Place of Origin: Greece

Average Length: Approx. 1.2 inches (3.3 cm)

Common Grade: Class I–IV or Grade 1–4

Unlike Indian and Persian saffron, the Greek variety doesn’t have its very own classification system. As such, the product you’ll get from the country can vary greatly.

In a 2000 study, Greek saffron was shown to contain only half the average amount of essential oils found in Indian saffron and some Spanish ones. Moreover, Persian saffron had thrice of these aromatic compounds.

For the most part, they keep a part of the style on each Krokos thread. Hence, it’s common to see Greek saffron thread having more or less 80% stigma and 20% style.

The Greeks have a long history of cultivating saffron for domestic use and consumption. They have been farming and enjoying the fruits—or should I say, spice—of their labor for over 300 years.

Just before the 2010s, however, Greece seems to have ramped up their saffron production for export—about 70% of all harvest is sold overseas. Glass vials and bottles containing mostly whole red threads fetch a higher price tag and quality grading.

The Official Saffron Producers’ Cooperative of Kozani actually applied for the protection of geographical indications and designations of origin for their Krokos Kozanis way back in early 1998. They also acquired the PDO label that same year!

Krokos Kozanis is one of the only types of saffron that has such a distinction in the market. As such, you can be certain that you’re getting what you pay for with a bottle of Greek saffron.

9. Moroccan

About 1-inch in length, red Moroccan saffron threads generally have a bit of the red-orange and yellow style portion on them. Those cultivated at higher altitudes are of great quality, normally classed under Grade 1 or 2.

Other names: Zaafran, Taliouine Saffron

Place of Origin: Morocco

Average Length: Approx. 1.0 inches (2.7 cm)

Common Grade: Class I–IV or Grade 1–4

Just like the Greek type, Moroccan saffron does not have specific subcategories. All saffron farmed in Morocco is generally referred to as Moroccan.

Still, there’s a bit of variety in both quality and grade for Moroccan saffron, much like any other type.

In spite of having a lighter red color and each thread containing about 40% of orange to yellow styles, Moroccan saffron still contains moderate to high amounts of aromatic.

Most likely, this is due to the typical location of small family farms in Moroccan—highlands. Saffron cultivated in such areas seems to retain a lot of its essential oils. Several recent studies seem to confirm this relationship between potency and altitude.

If you want to get the most bang out of your back, look for Taliouine saffron with a PDO label. Like Greece, the country has a long history of saffron production—since the 10th century.

So if you ever get the chance to travel to Morocco, book your trip for the first week of November. During that time, they celebrate a 3-day festival around the harvest of saffron in Taliouine.

10. Spanish

Spanish saffron threads are generally bright red and around 0.9-in long. This type has its own 5-level classification system and is rarely subjected to grading international standards. Its quality and class can vary greatly depending on where its sourced.

Other names: Azafrán, Spanish Superior, Creme

Place of Origin: Spain

Average Length: Approx. 0.9–1.7 inches (2.5–4.5 cm)

Common Grade: Class I–IV or Grade 1–4

When made to image Spanish saffron, most people tend to think of short and slightly curled threads that are brighter in color compared to other varieties. Most are familiar with Spanish saffron being mostly red-orange but still having a considerable portion of the yellow style.

The highest Spanish saffron grade has stigma-only threads. It’s called the Coupe, often compared to Negin, Super Negin, and Sargol.

All 4 lower grades have styles of different proportions. In descending order they are La Mancha, Rio, Standard, and Sierra. These are generally compared to Poushal and Bunch threads. Of all 5 classes, La Macha is the most famous as it has PDO distinction.

Compared to the previous saffron types I’ve discussed, the production of Spanish saffron is much smaller. Since they once dominated the international trade of this red-gold spice, I was actually surprised to learn about this.

In the same 2000 research paper I mentioned earlier, Spanish saffron could be comparable with either Kashmiri or Persian saffron in terms of quality and ash content.

There is, unfortunately, a major problem with the sale of Spanish saffron in and out of the country. Low-grade imported saffron is sold as authentic Spanish saffron which is world-renowned as it is used in a variety of famous dishes like paella.

More recent investigations show that some bottled Spanish saffron could actually contain up to 90% of foreign plant matter, which may mean that it is highly adulterated.

11. Italian

The threads of Italian saffron are commonly short, at about 0.5 in, and mostly red in color. However, some do retain small portions of the orange and yellow style.

Other names: Zaffarano, Aquila Saffron

Place of Origin: Italy

Average Length: Approx. 0.5–0.6 inches (1.5–1.6 cm)

Common Grade: Class I–IV or Grade 1–4

Physically, the average Italian saffron thread is similar to Spain’s Mancha and Rio—which makes sense since it was likely brought by the Spaniards during the inquisition.

Italian saffron is predominantly red but deeper in shade and with a bit of the yellow-orange style at times.

You could also find some Italian saffron that resembles the Persian Negin. These are mostly categorized under Grade 1. However, this is true even for threads with some style on them. The rest normally fall under 2 and 3, with few in 4—but adulteration of Italian saffron exists too.

The cultivation of Italian saffron is quite restricted because of its overall climate. Most farms are located in Navelli Valley and Sardinia.

Although it contains a lot of the aromatic compounds that saffron is known for, the high humidity and year-round rainfall have remained to be a recurrent problem. These issues have consistently lowered Italy’s already low saffron harvest.

What is Saffron? (Everything You Need to Know!)

Saffron is a spice and colorant that’s derived from the stigma and style of the Crocus sativus flower. It is harvested, cut, dried, and packaged by hand. Over 75–90% of all saffron is produced in Iran, providing over 80–100 tonnes every year.

Originating from the Mediterranean and southwestern Asia, the saffron plant is a bulbous perennial that is now widely cultivated around the world. Most of the world’s supply of this red-gold spice is produced in the northern hemisphere, from Spain all the way to India.

But numerous home gardeners in Canada, the United States, Australia, and even New Zealand have successfully cultivated saffron for their personal use and small-scale trade.

How to Plant and Grow Saffron Crocus

The saffron crocus plant thrives will drier temperate climates, cool well-draining fertile soil, and full sun exposure during the day. You can propagate them from corms, which need to be dug up and divided every 2–5 years to further promote flowering—leading to greater yield.

Check out other sun-loving plants in our article on identifying full sun plants!

It’s important to note that though there are several other species of the crocus plant, only the Crocus sativus is cultivated for the highly valued spice. Aside from culinary uses, saffron is commonly used for medicine, cosmetics, perfumes, dyes, and for spiritual purposes too.

How is Saffron Harvested?

More often than not, saffron harvest is painstakingly done by hand. Some may use tweezers as well but this might result in breakage.

People, mostly women, who harvest saffron are not allowed to wear make-up or perfume to avoid affecting the spice’s quality.

By April or November, the lilac or purple flowers will bloom from the grass-like leaves of the crocus plant for as long as only 2 weeks. Ideally, the flowers are picked early in the morning as they open up. Others simply harvest saffron directly from the flower without picking it.

Saffron From the Crocus Sativus Plant
Saffron From the Crocus Sativus Plant

Each flower will have a white-to-cream style that branches out into 3 red to orange stigmas—this is where the 0.7–1.9 (2–5cm) saffron spice comes from. They are then cut (optional), dried, and stored in air-tight containers—preferably tins to avoid bleaching.

What are the Grades for Saffron?

Though the updated ISO/TS 3632 specifications use 3 categories for saffron grading, many still use the old one with 4 grades. Both chemical and physical properties are evaluated for this, but the classification is primarily based on crocin content.

As I’ve said repeatedly, each type of saffron can have varying grades. So no single type can really be considered the absolute best or worst saffron.

But that, of course, won’t stop export firms and retail companies from claiming their saffron to be to a whole class above the rest. So if you want a more reliable way to determine the quality of saffron, look for its ISO 3632 Grade Classification.

ISO 3632 Grade ClassificationI (A+)II (A)III (B)IV
Old Crocin Content
(Coloring Strength)
Updated Crocin Content
(Coloring Strength)
Old Picrocrocin Content
(Flavor Strength)
Updated Picrocrocin Content
(Flavor Strength)
Old Safranal Content
(Aroma Strength)
Updated Safranal Content
(Aroma Strength)
Old Extraneous Animal Matter
(Mass Fraction, max. %)
Updated Extraneous Animal Matter
(Mass Fraction, max. %)
Old Foreign Plant Matter
(Mass Fraction, max. %)
Updated Foreign Plant Matter
(Mass Fraction, max. %)
Grades of Saffron—ISO Chemical and Physical Specifications

From the table, you can easily tell the 3 major factors that determine saffron quality: 1) crocin, 2) picrocrocin, and 3) safranal. These will naturally degrade over time so don’t buy any more than necessary.

As indicated above, crocin is the main compound that can tell you the coloring or dying power of saffron. This typically also has a direct effect on the bitterness of its taste and the opposite effect on the intensity of its smell.

Why is Saffron So Expensive?

Saffron is a very expensive spice because 1) large areas of land are necessary for significant harvest, 2) harvest for it is time-consuming and labor-intensive, and 3) it has a very small yield per plant.

There’s a good reason why saffron is famously dubbed the red-gold spice. It’s because it rivals gold in terms of price.

Over the years, there have even been times when high-quality saffron was even more expensive than gold—that’s 300–500 bucks for only 1 ounce of the sunshine spice, saffron.

Why Saffron Is The World's Most Expensive Spice

Around late 2022 though, they are still quite comparable to each other—both costing around 55–60 USD per ounce (equivalent to about 28 grams).

1. Large Land Area

You need sizable land for profitable saffron cultivation. This is because each plant grows quite close to the ground, normally not exceeding a foot. An acre of land will only be enough to produce 8–10 pounds (3.6–4.5 kg) of dried saffron.

Each corm must also be planted at least 4 inches between each other to promote good growth. For small-scale production and personal use, however, container planting can be considered.

2. Meticulous Harvest

It takes more or less an hour for one skilled person to be able to harvest a single gram (0.03 oz) of dried saffron threads from the flowers by hand.

There is currently no way to harvest quickly with any kind of specialized tool as the plant is quite small and delicate.

As such, farmers and their families normally spend hours upon hours of back-breaking work to harvest this beloved spice during harvest season.

3. Very Small Yield

Each saffron crocus plant will only grow 2–4 flowers. From those, you can only get 6–12 stigmas (with or without styles), with each stigma weighing more or less just 2 mg.

In short, a single Crocus sativus plant with 2 flowers will only yield approximately 12 mg of dried saffron.

Crocus Sativus Flowers Needed for 1 oz of Saffron
Crocus Sativus Flowers Needed for 1 oz of Saffron

To put things into perspective, you will need to harvest saffron threads from at the very least 2362 saffron crocus flowers to save up 1 oz or 28 g of the dried red-gold spice.

Some experts even say up to 6000 or so flowers are needed for just an ounce of Grade 1 red saffron.


Is saffron toxic?

Saffron, the spice, and the Crocus sativus plant are neither poisonous nor toxic. However, another plant commonly known as meadow saffron (Colchicum spp.) can cause severe dermatitis and is highly poisonous. Eating any part of the meadow saffron can result in vomiting, diarrhea, and even respiratory failure due to alkaloid colchicine.

Can you eat too much saffron?

Despite the rarity of its occurrence, people can eat too much saffron and suffer side effects from doing so. Common side effects of saffron over-consumption include drowsiness, anxiety, nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, and abortions. So although saffron is non-toxic, eating 5 g of the dried spice in one sitting can be deadly.

What is imitation saffron?

Calendulas or marigolds are commonly used to imitate saffron. Their yellow and orange petals slender and elongated petals are commonly dried and used as the poor man’s saffron. However, they need to be chopped up and sautéed with hot oil to release their color and flavor.

Is annato the same saffron?

Annatto is a completely different spice from saffron, however, it is also commonly used to color and flavor different foods from around the world. It is a dried red-orange seed harvested from the achiote trees (Bixa orellana) of South America. Unlike the golden color derived from saffron, annatto produces either red or yellow-orange pigments.

Do fake saffrons exist?

Both powdered and whole saffron threads are commonly faked in international trade. This is because they fetch the highest price among all spices. Powdered saffron is faked with red soil, turmeric, paprika, and tartrazine. Meanwhile, saffron threads are faked by dying horse hair, corn silk, and thin paper strips red.

What is American saffron?

American saffron and bastard saffron are common names of safflower, Carthamus tinctorius. It is a herbaceous thistle-like flowering annual plant that is commonly used for cooking, teas, and dyes. Though small batches of other saffron varieties have successfully been grown in the US, they are typically Portuguese saffron and not American saffron.

Summary of The 11 Types of Saffron

Persian saffron, which is widely known internationally is further divided into 6 distinct thread types. Namely, these saffron types originating from Iran are Super Negin, Negin, Sargol, Poushal, Bunch, and Konj. Varieties that are all or primarily red are considered premium.

There’s also Kashmiri saffron from India, Greek saffron, Moroccan saffron, Spanish saffron, and Italian saffron. Besides Iran, these countries also produce a substantial amount of the world’s entire saffron supply.


  • “Saffron—Crocus sativus L.” by James M. Stephens in University of Florida Extension
  • “Hormone and Microorganism Treatments in the Cultivation of Saffron (Crocus Sativus L.) Plants” by Alper Aytekin and Aynur Ozkul Acikgoz in ResearchGate
  • “Saffron Quality: Effect of Agricultural Practices, Processing and Storage” by Stella A Ordoudi and Maria Tsimidou in ResearchGate
  • “Saffron: The Red Gold” by n/a in The Indian Culture Portal
  • “How to recognize quality saffron?” by Sandrine Tranchard or n/a in the International Organization for Standardization
  • “Greece’s ‘red gold’: Saffron trade blooming in a wilted economy” by Karolina Tagaris in Kathimerini English Edition
  • “A Value Chain On Kashmir Saffron” by Dr. F. A. Nehvi, Dr.J. K. Dhar, and Dr .Shafiq A.Wani in National Agricultural Innovation Project
  • “Made in Spain? The great saffron trading scandal” by n/a in El País
  • “Saffron (Crocus sativus L.): Quality Assessment in Morocco” by Dr Mounira Lage in The University of Vermont
  • “Geographical identification of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) by linear discriminant analysis applied to the UV-visible spectra of aqueous extracts” by Angelo Antonio D’Archivio and Maria Anna Maggi in the National Library of Medicine
  • “Note. Physical parameters in controlling saffron quality” by G. L. Alonso, M. R. Salinas, M. A. Sánchez-Fernández, and J. Garijo in ResearchGate
  • “Taliouine Saffron” by Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity – Ark of Taste in Google Arts & Culture

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