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Topics in Perfumery: Saffron in Perfumery and Flavors

By: Arcadi Boix Camps, Auram Art & Perfume
Posted: December 20, 2007, from the January 2008 issue of P&F magazine.

I believe human beings have two ages, the chronological and the biological. There is a time when those ages are relatively close together, but the differences between them do grow over time. This I know, because I feel exactly as I did when I was 22 or 23 years old. Let me tell you one secret that I have never told to anybody but my closest friends: Since the age of 18, I have started every morning with a glass of iced Spanish saffron infusion, which imparts a sensation of youth, energy and strength inside my body.
Not long ago, I thought to analyze saffron. It is well known that saffron contains: approximately 0.4-1.4% essential oil; yellow flavonoids that are derived from the diterpene, crocetin; bitter substances, including picrocrocin and safranal (one of the compounds that imparts the characteristic aroma of saffron); beta-hydroxycyclocitral; 2-butenoic-acid-lactone; carbohydrates; beta-carotene; gamma-carotene; cineole; copper; crocin 1-4 (disaccharide analogs of crocin, such as crocin-1 and crocin-2, are less potent than monosaccharide analogs of crocin, such as crocin-3 and crocin-4, in improving eyesight); crocose. The stigmas also contain: 8.5-16% water; 6-13% fixed oil; oleanolic-acid derivatives; oleic acid; 4.3-4.8% fibre; 12.6-13.6% protein; 12-13% starch; lauric acid; lycopene; manganese; 2.2-2.4% nitrogen; thiamine; xanthophylls; and zeaxanthin. As a flavorist and perfumer, I of course wished to delve deeper into the 0.4-1.4% of essential oil.

Modernity, Science and Wisdom

I was hesitant to delve deeper into the composition of saffron because I believe our lives require mysteries, myths, emotions, dreams, wisdom and the special character of wisdom. Wisdom can reveal things that art, science, knowledge and learning cannot. Knowledge and learning have steadily increased over the centuries, but the same progress hasn’t been achieved in wisdom. The individual may grow in wisdom, but society sadly does not.

Lovers of modernity—world leaders in the establishment, those with great influence and economic power whom we call technocrats—may assert their superiority over the ancients in all the arts and sciences, but they cannot claim superiority in wisdom. The phrase “modern science” needs no elucidation, but if one were to speak of “modern wisdom,” an explanation would be in order. Just as “modern” seems to have an immediate affinity with “science,” so “ancient” does with “wisdom.” Sadly, it is this latter quality that has been lost. If we aren’t able to reverse this reality, we will inherit a wasteland, of which I’ve spoken in previous writings. Without the spirit, myths and mysteries—the keys of human greatness and creativity—we face a desolation of the soul.

This is what gave me pause before seeking the logical and scientific goals of analyzing the volatile part of saffron essential oil. To me, saffron is part of the unknown mystery of the world, its subjective energy. However, I value science and knowledge highly. I dream of a time when science, knowledge and wisdom will progress simultaneously—a time that is unfortunately not ours.