Saffron [German version]

Table of contents

Product information
  Container transport
  Cargo securing

Risk factors and loss prevention:
Temperature Odor
Humidity/Moisture Contamination
Ventilation Mechanical influences
Biotic activity Toxicity / Hazards to health
Gases Shrinkage/Shortage
Self-heating / Spontaneous combustion Insect infestation / Diseases

Product information

Product name

German Safran
English Saffron
French Safran
Spanish Azafrán
Scientific Crocus sativus
CN/HS number * 0910 20 ff.

(* EU Combined Nomenclature/Harmonized System)

Product description

Saffron is produced from the dried, yellowish orange 2.5 – 4 cm long stigmas of the purple-flowered saffron crocus Crocus sativus of the iris family (Iridaceae), native to Southern Europe and the Middle East. The stigmas are in the form of tubes which open out at the top into a funnel shape. It is the most valuable, most expensive spice in the world.

Harvesting saffron is very labor-intensive: each blossom has three stigmas, which are picked by hand in the morning, before the heat of the day, and then dried for 15 – 30 minutes. The blossoms are thrown away.

The term spice is used to refer to plant parts which serve to improve the odor and flavor of foods. They contain essential oils and other ingredients which have a strong seasoning action.

Spices are processed, cleaned, graded and carefully packaged for overseas dispatch in the countries where they are cultivated. They are dried to preserve them for transport and storage. In consumer countries, they are delivered to spice mills, where they are cleaned and graded again, ready for sale in unground or ground form.

Spices are classified by the plant parts used:

Fruit and seed spices (e.g. pepper, cardamom, aniseed)
Bud and flower spices (e.g. cloves, saffron)
Bark spices (e.g. cinnamon)
Root spices (ginger, turmeric)
Leaf spices (bay leaf)

Saffron has an aromatic, hot and slightly bitter taste. Saffron contains a water-soluble coloring matter known as crocin, which provides a golden-colored dye which is effective even at a dilution of 1:100,000.

1 kg of saffron represents 100,000 to 200,000 blossoms, the stigmas of which have to be removed by hand, which explains the high price and the frequent cases of adulteration with parts of other plants and other organic or inorganic substances.

Oil content: 0.4 – 1.3% essential oils, in particular picrocrocin (saffron-bitter) [1]

Quality / Duration of storage

To monitor the freshness of saffron, a pinch of saffron is put into a glass of warm water: fresh stigmas swell up and color the water yellow, old ones neither swell up nor display a dyeing action.

A distinction is drawn between the following two types:

select saffron, which consists solely of the dried stigmas and
natural saffron, which consists of dried stigmas with attached style parts. This is less valuable.

Due to its high price, saffron is frequently adulterated with the stigmas and style parts of other plants (tubular flowers) or with organic or inorganic substances to add to the weight.

Prepared saffron consists of well dried, intertwined threads. The darker is the saffron, the fewer light yellow stamens have been combined with it and the better is its quality.

The main country of cultivation is Spain, where a distinction is drawn between the following types:

Type Flower waste Styles
„Coupe“ up to 5%
„Mancha“ up to 5% 10 – 15%
„Rio“ up to 10% 20 – 25%
„Sierra“ up to 15% 25 – 30%

Intended use

Saffron is used as a seasoning and as a food dye for coloring pasta, cheese, rice dishes, butter, cakes and liqueurs.


(Click on the individual Figures to enlarge them.)

Drawing, saffron crocus

Figure 1
Photo, saffron

Figure 2
Photo, saffronPhoto, saffron

Figure 3

Countries of origin

This Table shows only a selection of the most important countries of origin and should not be thought of as exhaustive.

Europe Spain, Greece, Italy, France, Russia, Portugal
Africa North Africa
Asia Iran, India, Pakistan, China, Japan
America USA (Pennsylvania)

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Saffron is very light-sensitive and hygroscopic and must therefore be well sealed and protected from light during transport. The product is therefore packaged in cans which are in turn packaged in boxes. Sometimes saffron is packaged in corrugated board cartons lined with aluminum.

Photo, saffron packaging

Figure 4

Marking of packages

Fragile, Handle with care

Mark07.gif (2224 bytes)

Keep dry

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Symbol, general cargo

General cargo

Means of transport

Ship, truck, railroad

Container transport

Standard containers may be used, subject to compliance with lower limits for water content of goods, packaging and container flooring.

Dunnage (floor, side, top dunnage) should protect the goods on all sides. If relatively long journeys are to be undertaken through various climatic regions, a nonwoven fabric suspended in the container may protect the cargo from dripping condensation water.

Due to the high risk of theft, containers should be stowed such that the doors of adjacent containers face inwards and block each other.

Cargo handling

In damp weather (rain, snow), the cargo must be protected from moisture, since this may lead to spoilage.

The increased risk of theft during cargo handling may be reduced by shrink or stretch packaging.

Packaging and cargo units should be checked for intactness each time they are handled.

Stowage factor

1.98 m3/t (boxes) [1]
1.95 – 2.06 m3/t (boxes) [11]

Stowage space requirements

Cool, dry, good ventilation


Fiber rope, thin fiber nets, marker pen, oil crayon

Cargo securing

In order to ensure safe transport, the cargo must be stowed and secured in the means of transport in such a manner that it cannot slip or shift during transport. If loss of volume and degradation of quality are to be avoided, the packages must not be damaged by other articles or items of cargo.

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Risk factors and loss prevention

RF Temperature

Saffron requires particular temperature, humidity/moisture and possibly ventilation conditions (SC VI) (storage climate conditions).

Favorable travel temperature range: 5 – 25°C [1]

Saffron should be transported in areas which exhibit the lowest temperatures during the voyage and are dry. In any event, storage beneath the weather deck or, in the case of shipping in containers, in the uppermost layer on deck, must be avoided as the deck or container is strongly heated by the intense tropical sun and, at temperatures of > 25°C, essential oils may be lost.

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RF Humidity/Moisture

Saffron requires particular temperature, humidity/moisture and possibly ventilation conditions (SC VI) (storage climate conditions).

Designation Humidity/water content Source
Relative humidity 70% [1]
Water content 9 – 10% (product) [1]
12 – 18% (wooden packaging) [1]
Maximum equilibrium moisture content 70% [1]

Spices are hygroscopic goods (hygroscopicity), which interact with the moisture in the air. The risk of mold growth is naturally at its greatest in warm, damp air. Saffron is very hygroscopic, exposure to moisture creating a risk of spoilage of the product. For this reason, saffron is packaged for shipping in airtight cans.

Saffron should be stowed away from goods which are sensitive to moisture/humidity or release moisture (e.g. copra).

In order to prevent condensation on the ship’s side or container walls from affecting the cargo, care should be taken to leave a clear gap between the cargo stack and the ship’s side or container wall.

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RF Ventilation

Saffron requires particular temperature, humidity/moisture and possibly ventilation conditions (SC VI) (storage climate conditions).

To prevent the labels from falling off the cans or corrosion of the cans by condensation water, ventilation may be necessary. This is the case where the moisture potential in the hold/container is too high, e.g. due to excessively damp cartons or boxes. To dissipate potential moisture, the following ventilation measures should then be implemented:

Recommended ventilation conditions: air exchange rate: 6 changes/hour (airing)

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RF Biotic activity

Saffron displays 3rd order biotic activity.

Saffron belongs to the class of products in which respiration processes are suspended, but in which biochemical, microbial and other decomposition processes still proceed.

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RF Gases

No risk.

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RF Self-heating / Spontaneous combustion

Oil content: 0.4 – 1.3% essential oils, in particular picrocrocin (saffron-bitter) [1]

Picrocrocin (saffron-bitter) is a bitter substance which produces the flavor typical of saffron. In addition, saffron contains the yellow coloring matter crocin, which produces the intense yellow color.

An elevated moisture content and excessively high temperatures create a risk of self-heating.

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RF Odor

Airtight packaging in cans prevents saffron from causing odor-tainting and from being itself tainted with foreign odors.

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RF Contamination

Active behavior Saffron does not cause contamination.
Passive behavior Thanks to the airtight packaging, the product itself is not at any risk. However, the packaging is sensitive to contamination by dust, dirt, fats and oils.

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RF Mechanical influences

As saffron is very sensitive to moisture, the packaging must under no circumstances be damaged by improper handling. The packages must therefore be handled with appropriate care.

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RF Toxicity / Hazards to health

No risk.

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RF Shrinkage/Shortage

Saffron is very valuable and is therefore at acute risk of theft; in the event of conventional loading, it should be stowed in the locker. Due to the high risk of theft, containers should be stowed such that the doors of adjacent containers face inwards and block each other.

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RF Insect infestation / Diseases

No risk.

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