Despite attempts at quality control and standardisation, an extensive history of saffron adulteration, particularly among the cheapest grades, continues into modern times.
Adulteration was first documented in Europe’s Middle Ages, when those found selling adulterated saffron were executed under the Safranschou code. Typical methods include mixing in extraneous substances like beetroot, pomegranate fibres, red-dyed silk fibres, or the saffron crocus’s tasteless and odourless yellow stamens. Safflower is a common substitute sometimes sold as saffron.
Other methods included dousing saffron fibres with viscid substances like honey or vegetable oil to increase their weight.
Adulteration can also consist of selling mislabeled mixes of different saffron grades.
Powdered saffron is more prone to adulteration, with turmeric, paprika, and other powders used as diluting fillers. The spice is reportedly counterfeited with horse hair, corn silk, or shredded paper. Tartrazine or sunset yellow have been used to colour counterfeit powdered saffron.