Colour, flavour and fragrance
Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, as well as one of the oldest. It comes from the stigma of the Saffron crocus and is used for food colouring and flavouring, as well as for its aroma properties. Currently, saffron prices average around USD 2,000 per kg with high-grade saffron commanding much higher prices. Mainly in Asia, a significant pent-up demand on saffron is experienced. It is grown in just a few regions; more than 90% of the world’s production (c. 300 tonnes) comes from Iran.
The characteristic saffron flavour, colour and odour come from several components, of which the most important are picrocrocin, crocin and safranal. All of these are present in the crocus stigma.
Producing the key saffron components by fermentation has three main benefits. Firstly, it will allow saffron to be available at a much lower price than currently, which will both expand existing markets and open new ones. Secondly, it will eliminate the many complexities involved in the current supply chain. Finally, by making each of the key components separately it will enable the production of customised forms that are for example particularly rich in aroma, taste or colour and that can be adapted to specific food formulations and regional preferences.
Our work on saffron is primarily conducted at Evolva’s Chennai site. We have identified pathways for the production via fermentation of the key saffron components and filed multiple patent applications. We are continuing our optimisation work with the aim of establishing a commercially viable route for the production of these compounds in yeast. We expect products to be available either in 2015 or 2016.