What is saffron

Did you know that you need to collect about 200,000 flowers to produce just one kilo of saffron? The labour needed to produce it is just one of the many reasons that make the spice the world's most expensive agricultural product. It’s extremely important to the livelihoods of many farmers across the globe, within Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India, Pakistan and Iran – the biggest producer of saffron in the world.

A major problem that comes with the enormous value and effort that goes into the production of saffron is fraud, with some people trying to sell saffron with artificial colours and bulk, or even stained pieces of hemp rope or thistles posing as the real thing. Professor of Molecular Cytogenetics in the University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics, Pat Heslop-Harrison's scientific laboratory is part of the Saffronomics project - a consortium ranging from growers and producers through to traders and scientists. They're developing ways to detect fraud in saffron, ranging from DNA and gene expression studies through to optical spectroscopy and isotope-ratio mass spectrometry.

Over a cup of saffron tea, Professor Heslop-Harrison has been explaining to Nathan Ifill exactly what the spice is, how we can use it and how to identify a fake.