In Flavour: Saffron

August 21, 2018
4 min read

Thanks to international travel, global brands and creative chefs, consumers are being exposed to more types of cuisines than ever before. Saffron is an ingredient that can be used to transform foods into premium, trend-worthy, global offerings. Traditionally used by chefs in upscale restaurants, the time has come to add saffron to consumer packaged goods, such as condiments, sauces, soups, stews, teas, side dishes, entrees, and even desserts.

Intense color, global flavors and premium appeal

Saffron is the handpicked stigma of the blue crocus flower, Crocus sativus linnaeus. It takes more than 70,000 flowers to make just one pound of saffron, making it the most expensive spice in the world. The spice is found in a number of global cuisines but the major producers of saffron include Spain, Iran, India, Afghanistan, and Greece.

Saffron has purported functional properties, including claims that it is an anti-inflammatory. But saffron’s real potential lies in its ability to make a dish seem premium, luxurious and exotic. Luckily, it takes only a small amount of this extravagant spice to impart its complex flavor, subtle aroma, and eye-catching color. Saffron’s strong crimson-yellow hue exemplifies Mintel’s 2016 Global Food & Drink Trend, ‘Eat With Your Eyes,’ appealing to consumers for whom sharing images of food is as important as eating it.

Retail food formulations can benefit from a saffron infusion

Appetizers and side dishes. A small amount of saffron will boost the flavor and appearance of any dish or side dish. Soup, salad dressing, bread, dip, sauces, spreads, oils, honey, side dishes, frozen meals, and spice blends are among the many opportunities to leverage saffron.

Entrees and dessert. Saffron pairs exceptionally well with poultry, fish, and crustaceans. Its subtle flavor, savory aroma, and visual brightness are ideal enhancers to augment seafood, poultry, beef, or lamb. At the end of the meal, saffron can add a sweet and savory touch. Try it in cakes, cookies, scones, pudding, and ice cream.

Beverage. Saffron-infused beverage opportunities abound. Launches in the last year include peach rose water with saffron, green and spiced teas with saffron, organic saffron beer, honey rum liquor with saffron, and classic Arabic coffee with cardamom and saffron.

Saffron stars

L’Apéro du Poissonnier Black Sea Bream Rillettes with Breton Saffron, France

A saffron fish spread that can be eaten as an appetizer on toast or bilinis, with raw vegetables, or in a sandwich.


Williams-Sonoma Seasonal Flavors Low Sodium Sicilian White Wine Braising Sauce, US

This Mediterranean-style sauce can be combined with sauteed chicken, pork, fish, or tofu or served with freshly cooked pasta, polenta, or rice.


Caravel Gourmet Gourmet Salt Collections Saffron Fleur de Sel Sea Salt, US

This fine grain seasoning blend can be used on chicken, fish, meat, pasta, rice, potatoes, grains, vegetables, and salads.


Paulúns Superbowl Pepper & Artichoke with Saffron & Cayenne, Edamame Beans, Lentils and Pumpkin Seeds, Sweden

This unique microwavable vegetable blend offers a fusion of flavors by combining saffron with edamame and lentils.

SouperItaly Fennel and Saffron Readymade Fresh Soup, Italy

This ready-made fresh soup combines subtle, complementary flavors of fennel and saffron in an on-the-go format.


1001 Delights Pistachio & Saffron Ice Cream, Switzerland

This savory and sweet frozen confection is a flavor that is well known in the Middle East but new to the rest of the world.

What we think

Saffron is an all-natural spice that has arrived. It is trending in foodservice and primed for use in CPG food products, especially where world flavors, such as Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or African, are called for. The transformative ingredient adds flavor, aroma, and vibrant color to otherwise bland dishes. Brands seeking to intensify the flavor and color of premium products should keep saffron in mind as it also lends a sense of luxury to a dish.

Kathleen Kennedy
Kathleen Kennedy

Kathleen is a Global Food & Drink Analyst at Mintel who brings over 25 years of experience in the food industry. She has held leadership roles in grocery, mass merchandising, manufacturing and foodservice.

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