Saffron Color

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Saffron’s intense color comes from a set of carotenoid pigments that account for 10% or more of the dried spice’s weight. The most abundant form, called crocin, is a molecular sandwich of one pigment molecule with a sugar molecule attached at each end. The sugars make the normally oil-soluble pigment into a water-soluble one—and this is why saffron is easily extracted in hot water or milk and works so well as a coloring agent for rice and other nonfatty foods. Crocin is a powerful colorant, and gives a noticeable tinge to water even at 1 part per million.