CI Natural Yellow 6
CI No. 75100

Physical Description

Saffron is the dried stigma of the Crocus Sativus plant. It is a reddish-brown or golden yellow powder that has a slightly bitter taste. Crocin and crocetin are the coloring principles of saffron. Together crocin and crocetin are present in the spice saffron at a total concentration of 4-6%. Crocin and crocetin are solids. Crocin is a yellow-orange glycoside that is soluble in hot water, sparingly soluble in absolute alcohol, glycerine, and propylene glycol, and insoluble in vegetable oils. At approximately 186° C, crocin melts with decomposition and has an absorption maxima in methanol at about 464 nm. Crocetin is a dicarboxylic acid that is only slightly soluble in water and most organic solvents although it is soluble in pyridine and similar organic bases as well as in dilute sodium hydroxide. Crocetin forms brick-red rhombs from acetic anhydride that melt with decomposition at about 285°C. Saffron shows good overall performance as a food colorant because it is stable toward light, oxidation, microbiological attack, and changes in pH.



Regulatory Approvals

USA: Saffron is a color additive exempt from certification and permanently listed for food use at GMP (21 CFR 73.500).

JECFA: Saffron is regarded as a food ingredient rather than an additive thus it is not appropriate to allocate an ADI (29th report, 1986).

EU: Saffron is generally considered a coloring food in the EU, rather than an additive food color. A coloring food is a food ingredient used for coloring purposes.

Safety Assessment

Saffron is not genotoxic by a weight of evidence analysis. Life-time toxicity studies revealed oral administration of saffron did not produce toxic effects on mice at doses up to 86 mg/kg/day for 92 days. No adverse effects were observed in rats fed 150 mg/kg/day gardenia-extracted crocin dye for 4 months. The initial increases in the blood levels of three liver enzymes (possibly associated with cellular damage, biliary obstruction and pre-cancerous states) attributed to the dietary intake of 1500 mg/kg/day gardenia-extracted crocin dye for 4 months was not confirmed in subsequent studies by the same authors. Crocetin was reported to have anticarcinogenic properties.

Safety Reviews

JECFA (1986) Evaluation of certain food additives and contaminants. WHO Tech Rept. Ser. No. 733. Available online