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Saffron sold in India adulterated as govt has no policy to check quality
Monday, 05 November, 2018, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Khyati Das, Mumbai
Quality of saffron in India has come under the scanner with a recent study pointing out that the commodity sold in India failed to meet any quality parameters of Grades-I and II, and about half the samples drawn for testing were adulterated.

The study, conducted by a team led by Gulab Khedkar, professor, molecular biology; director, Paul Hebert Centre for DNA Barcoding and Biodiversity Studies, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad, questioned as to how a commodity that is premium and scarce in production, is widely used in the country.

He drew attention to the fact, “India has no policy to check the quality. Surprisingly, all the products are marked under the standard laid down by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), which states that the product is safe to consume.”

Meanwhile another study, which was conducted by the Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI), Government of India, presented contrasting viewpoints. This second study proved that none of its 36 saffron samples collected for testing from 17 locations were sub-standard or adulterated. However, the ministry declined to comment on the same.

Interestingly, apart from its aroma, flavour and health benefits, the spice is also known for its distinct colour, a key indicator that helps evaluate the commodity.

Explaining the first study’s findings, Khedkar stated, “Samples of saffron were collected from retail shops in Delhi, Hyderabad, Jodhpur, Mangalore, Kozhikode, Mumbai, Pampore and Tirupati, which were among the 17 sites, to track down the distributors, suppliers and stakeholders.”

According to him, it identified 24 samples (or 66.66 per cent) as true saffron, consistent with the species specified by the sellers or as a label claim originating from the root, 10 samples were found to be carrying different adulterants in saffron, which had not been reported previously. The microscopic examination and spectroscopic studies for chemical analysis were undertaken at Paul Hebert Centre for DNA Barcoding and Biodiversity Studies.

Delving deeper, Khedkar stated that out of the 36 samples collected, only 20 samples examined were found to be true saffron, as they contained stigma from the saffron flower. Four samples were found to contain other parts of the saffron plant, such as the leaves or the stem. This made it difficult to distinguish them from the stigma via standard genetic tests.

Khedkar revealed, “It has been a century since the 1918 treatise, in which food chemists in the United States pointed out that saffron fibres may be soaked in honey, vegetable oil or glycerin to increase mass. Concerns about adulterated saffron have existed since then.”

Recently, two saffron sellers from Pampore, the town in Jammu and Kashmir to which the spice is native, were sentenced to a two-year term in jail for adulteration under Section 16 of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 (the predecessor of the Food Safety and Standards Regulations, 2011).
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