SAFFRON – Crocus sativus

By Michael Pickering

Until the late 15th Century, selling inferior or adulterating authentic saffron was a punishable crime. Times have changed. In my neighborhood today, the price of saffron ranges from $1.50/oz (a Chinese medicinal, which is a mixture of saffron and safflower) to $1000.00/oz (certified organic, unit size 0.007oz, sold as a food commodity). At organic prices, moisture would be a significant adulterant. Buyers beware: I have also seen pure Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) pistils sold as saffron at $12.45/oz. The pure pistils are variously referred to as Mexican saffron, Portuguese saffron, or bastard saffron. Though safflower will produce the desired color, it is lacking the distinctive taste and smell of true saffron. Such egregious behavior surely would have warranted the death penalty in the Middle Age.

The North African Crocus is a lovely, lavender bloom in the fall. Each flower bears three outrageously large stamens which must be harvested by hand immediately upon blossoming. The stamens are bright red-orange when plucked and deep red to brown when dried. In trade, they are referred to as threads. Although saffron is cited as a medicinal in the Chinese Pharmacopeia, most peoples of the world prize the threads for their characteristic color and heady, aromatic spice qualities. The spice is considered the costliest in the world due to the laborious harvest and paltry yield (estimated at 13,000 stamens per ounce).

The following are singular dishes that cannot be prepared without saffron: Bouillabaise, Harira, Risotto Milanese, and Seafood Paella.

Since saffron has no ritual significance to me, nor am I royalty, the bulk Chinese variety suits my palate. I just use more to create the effect I want. My favorite personal recipe, using the bulk Chinese saffron, is as follows:

Poached White Fish with Saffron Infused Lime Sauce

White fish filletsThree peppercorns per filletCourt Bouillon:

– about 4 cups water
– one-forth cup Mirin (Japanese sweet cooking wine)
– one lime, juice and zest
– three green onions, chopped
– one stalk celery, thinly sliced including the leaves if possible


– Cointreau and lime juice, 1:1 ratio (if you want stronger lime flavor, add the zest too)
– Saffron 1/8 tsp. per fillet, ground in a mortar (if using certified organic saffron,
add three threads per four fillets)

– chopped green onions
– toasted pumpkin seeds

Using a heavy iron skillet large enough to accommodate the fish without touching, warm the peppercorns until aromatic. Add water and other bouillon ingredients. Simmer 15-20 minutes. Push aside solids and lay fish fillets flat on bottom of skillet – bouillon level in skillet should be even with tops of fillets. Bring back to simmer, cover skillet and turn off heat. Set aside for 15-20 minutes. Remove fillets and set on serving platter, pour sauce over fish, garnish and serve. Enjoy!

Photo (l to r): organic Saffron, Safflower, and Herbal mix containing Safflower and trace amounts of Saffron

New! GARD: Column Protection System

A new Column protection system for Cation-exchange HPLC applications will be unveiled exclusively at Pittcon this year.

The new GARD™ manufactured by Pickering Laboratories is a substantial improvement over the standard packed guards. The new GARD™ adds little pressure, is invisible to the chromatography, and has substantially more capacity for strongly retained compounds that can foul the analytical column.

The new GARD Column Protection System significantly prolongs column life without band spreading or added pressure. We will have a poster at Pittcon demonstrating, by means of a performance comparison for Amino Acid Analysis, that the use of a GARD will protect the analytical column more effectively than traditional guard cartridges, is more cost-effective for the laboratory, is easy to change, and most importantly has zero band spreading.

Chromatography Quiz No. 2

Congratulations to the winners of our last newsletter’s Chromatography Quiz: Matthew Hartz, Jamie Palmer, and Keena Njoroge from Underwriters Laboratories, Sudheer Reddy from Chemtex, and Becky Canela from Environmental Laboratory Services!

They’ve each won, and will shortly be receiving from, two dozen irresistible cookies in five flavors: White Chocolate Hazelnut, Snickerdoodle, Peanut Butter, Oatmeal Raisin, and Chocolate Chip.

The correct answer for the modified Carbamates chromatogram: we reversed the two reagents. The OPA reagent was pumped in the Reagent One position, and the Hydrolysis reagent was pumped in the Reagent Two position. Thus 1-Naphthol, which is naturally fluorescent, appears full-sized. The other Carbamate peaks have different sizes due to their varying rate of hydrolysis – the high pH of the OPA reagent will allow for some but not complete hydrolysis prior to detection.

Chromatography Quiz: Amino Acid Analysis

Identify the error made when running the Amino Acids chromatogram below and win a prize! Simply email your answer and your full contact information to Rebecca at by March 1st in order to win. The troubleshooting answer and winner congratulations will be published in the next issue (to be anonymous, please notify Rebecca in submission).

Amino Acid Analysis of Physiological Fluids:

Pickering Standard: 011006P Native Sample Standard 0.25 µmole/mL, 10 µL injection

Pickering Column: 0354100T High Efficiency Lithium Cation-exchange Column, 4.0 x 100 mm

Normal Operating Conditions: (for reference only, condition changes may be reflected in chromatogram)

Column Temperature: 36 °C

Flow rate: 0.35 mL/min

Eluent Gradient:

Post-column conditions for amino acid analysis:
Reagent 1: Trione
Reactor 1: 130 °C, 0.5 mL
Reagent flow rate: 0.3 mL/min

Detection: UV-Vis Detector, 570nm for primary amino acids, 440nm for secondary amino acids
Hint: Assume in this case that both Guard and Analytical column are good. To see a standard Amino Acid chromatogram, click here

Pickering at AOAC International in Philadelphia

By Mike Gottschalk, Marketing Manager

It was the 125th Anniversary of the AOAC in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and this annual meeting was especially exciting with the anniversary celebrations.

At the Vendor exhibition we highlighted our Mycotoxin and GPC Sample-Cleanup products lines to expand our offering of the post-column derivatization products we are most known for.

The Scientific sessions also reflected growing interest in the analysis of Mycotoxins as well as Paralytic Shell Fish Toxins and a broad range of analytical instrumentation and techniques.

We brought a large contingency of personnel including Dr. Pickering, Dr. Ofitserova, Dr. Nerkar, Dr. Torma to accept the AOAC’s Single Laboratory Validation of the Year Award for our Multi-residue Mycotoxin Analysis. The paper, titled “Multi-residue Mycotoxin Analysis in Corn Grain by Column High-Performance Liquid Chromatography with Post-column Photochemical and Chemical Derivatization: Single-Laboratory Validation” was also published in the Journal of AOAC International Vol. 92, No. 1, 2009.

Photo: Michael, Maria, and Sareeta at AOAC

New Product Lines from Pickering, October 2009

Mycotoxin product line
We are now distributing Mycotoxin Immunoaffinity products for Ochratoxin and Aflatoxin. The performance and batch-to-batch reproducibility of the columns is exceptional and far exceeds that of other manufacturers. The columns can be used for any matrix, from wine and juice, to nuts and grains, to herbs and spices. Contact Sales for more information.

GPC Sample Clean up line
We have a new GPC Sample Clean-up product line! We have both automated and manual GPC cleanup systems and we also have systems that include concentration & solvent exchange, or just GPC. Sample cleanup using GPC is especially useful for fatty matrices, but also perfect for vegetable matter and spices, as well as soil & waste water.

New faster AAA columns
We now have a Lithium amino acid run which will separate 45 amino acids in 70 minutes for Physiologic fluids, an a new 30-min Sodium amino acid run which will separate the 20 amino acids commonly found in protein hydrolysate samples. These columns are for use with our Pinnacle PCX.

Histamine Product Line
Our newly launched Histamine product line consists of Dip-sticks and Elisa kits as well as Post-column derivatization for fast and in-situ testing as well as quick, reproducible, and sensitive methods for follow-up confirmation. Contact Pickering Laboratories at 1-800-654-3330 or for more information!

Ask Technical Support! October 2009

By David Mazawa, Technical Support Chemist

Parts Lookup for Pickering Instruments Now on the Internet:

Looking for a part number? Try out our new Parts Lookup for the Pinnacle, Vector, and 5200 models. It can be found on our website

Click on “Service and Support” tab and then choose the Parts Lookup from the pull-down menu. Just choose the model of your instrument, then click on the parts of interest and the part number will be displayed.

You can also use the following link:

Make sure your web browser can support Flash applications before selecting your instrument. Place your mouse over the part you are looking for and the part number will be displayed. The Parts Lookup was designed to provide part numbers of commonly replaced parts. If what you are looking for is not available on the Parts Lookup, call Technical Support at (800) 654-3330 or (650) 694-6700 or email

Soap Opera

by Michael Pickering

In the process of washing laundry the cleaning agent is the water, the “universal solvent.” The surfactant (soap/detergent) facilitates the removal of strongly adsorbed and hydrophobic soil from the clothes. Foam, however, is a contaminant. Suds stabilizers added to the surfactant create persistent foam. Unfortunately, most consumers believe foaming to be evidence of a good surfactant; that it is desirable. The truth is quite the opposite. Foam residues are difficult to remove. Notice, after all, that the foam is excluded from the solution/emulsion phase: it floats. Thus the rinse cycle is inadequate to the task of removing it. It is the residue of these suds stabilizers on laundered swim suits that necessitate the frequent exchanging of spa water. Contaminated hot tubs, when set to the ‘jets’ cycle, quickly build up foam on the surface of the water. The foam becomes thicker and more persistent with each subsequent use. Eliminating the use of swim suits, or rinsing the suits with water alone, will greatly increase the life of your spa water.

Guaranteed Chemistry