It’s the most expensive spice in the world, yet Mintel is urging product developers and manufacturers to incorporate it into a range of packaged goods to make them stand out – and not because of its bright crimson-orange colour.
Saffron is an ingredient that can be used to transform foods into premium, trend-worthy, global offerings, according to Mintel global food and drink analyst Kathleen Kennedy.
“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,” she said.
Exotic and eye-catching
So what gives saffron its pricey title? The spice is handpicked and derived from the blue crocus flower and takes more than 70,000 flowers to make just one pound of saffron. It is found in a number of global cuisines but the major producers of saffron include Spain, Iran, India, Afghanistan and Greece.
While there are health claims such as saffron is anti-inflammatory, its real potential lies in its ability to make a dish seem premium, luxurious and exotic, explained Kennedy.
“Luckily, it takes only a small amount of this extravagant spice to impart its complex flavour, subtle aroma and eye-catching colour,” she said.
Plus, it could also appeal to the Instagram crowd, she added.
A number of retail food formulations could benefit from a saffron infusion, said Kennedy.
The spice could boost the flavour and appearance of soup, salad dressing, bread, dip, sauces, spreads, oils, honey, side dishes, frozen meals, and spice blends.
While saffron also pairs exceptionally well with poultry, fish and crustaceans, commented Kennedy. “Its subtle flavour, savoury 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 savoury touch. Try it in cakes, cookies, scones, pudding, and ice cream,” she said.
She also suggested saffron-infused beverage opportunities abound, with launches in the last year including 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 is an all-natural spice that has arrived. It is trending in foodservice and primed for use in consumer packaged goods food products, especially where world flavours, such as Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or African, are called for,” she explained.
“The transformative ingredient adds flavour, aroma, and vibrant colour to otherwise bland dishes. Brands seeking to intensify the flavour and colour of premium products should keep saffron in mind as it also lends a sense of luxury to a dish.”
Earlier this year, Kerry Foods also predicted saffron to be a top gourmet ingredient food trend.
Around the world, saffron is already inspiring new product development. Like saffron fish spread that can be eaten as an appetiser on toast or bilinis, with raw vegetables, or in a sandwich. It comes from French brand L’Apéro du Poissonnier and is called black sea bream rillettes with the saffron grown in the northern French region of Brittany.
Around Europe there are other offerings too, such as Swedish brand Paulúns’ superbowl with pepper, artichoke, edamame beans, lentils, pumpkin seeds, saffron and cayenne, which is described as a unique microwavable vegetable blend. The Italians have put it in their soup in an on-the-go format, with food maker SouperItaly’s fennel and saffron readymade fresh soup. While in Switzerland, 1001 Delights released a pistachio and saffron ice cream – a flavour that is well known in the Middle East.
Over in the US, Caravel Gourmet has released a spice blend that contains saffron and sea salt and can be used on chicken, fish, meat, pasta, rice, potatoes, grains, vegetables, and salads, according to the company. While retail company Williams-Sonoma has produced its own Sicilian white wine braising sauce that can be combined with sauteed chicken, pork, fish or tofu or served with freshly cooked pasta, polenta or rice.
Could saffron spice things up Sparkie?
My take on this is that Mintel are considering using actual saffron as an easy method for premiumisation of existing products. The push for a more premium feel to food falls in line with some of their other predictions for the current retail landscape. A lot of products will use things like annato, turmeric or safflower to get a similar colour without the high cost so a switch to the actual traditional ingredient helps push the authenticity marketing in the right direction too. I can’t see it being forced into anything it shouldn’t already be in traditionally as it can come with a fairly strong flavour too so where you just want the natural colour – there are simply better options with less impact on the food.