5 Best Substitutes for Saffron

Jun 1, 2021 | Cooking Tips

Saffron is a prized herb in the culinary world. It doesn’t come cheap and it levels up your dish in so many ways. Saffron is a labor-intensive herb to harvest and that’s why they’re expensive. In order to keep our recipes budget-friendly, we’ve come up with the top 5 substitutes for saffron in cooking.

Saffron is known to be one of the world’s most precious spices. It comes from the saffron crocus flower that is said to have originated from Greece. Now, saffron is grown in the Middle East like Iran and Afghanistan, Morocco, Greece, India and the south of Spain.

Saffron crocus is a flavor that blooms once a year for only one week. The beloved spice that we use is the stigma of the flower and each flower only produces 3 stigmas. It would take 1,000 flowers to produce 1 gram of saffron and this is why it is so expensive.

Historical people have used this spice from Cleopatra and Alexander the Great. This precious spice is fragrant and subtly sweet in taste. When added into food, it adds a layer of depth and you’ll know that food has saffron once you taste it.

Saffron is expensive and that’s no secret. Some of us aren’t able to afford it so we look for substitutes for it.

Here’s a list of substitutes for saffron.


1. Turmeric

Turmeric is the most common easy substitute for saffron if we’re talking about color. It is part of the ginger family and it has a different taste from saffron but it produces the same yellowish color when added to food, cooked.

Turmeric has a different taste from saffron, which doesn’t make it the most ideal substitute if it’s the flavor you’re looking to substitute. It may add a different flavor into the dish compared to saffron but the difference isn’t offending and could even enhance the dish further.

Turmeric is a great substitute for saffron in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.


2. Cardamom

Cardamom isn’t the best substitute for saffron if you’re looking to get color out of it. However, it is a simple substitute for the saffron flavor in a dish. Saffron isn’t just used for color. One of the many great things about it is that its subtle flavors create a huge impact on your food. Cardamom does this as well.

Cardamom has a sweet and citrusy taste and is quite spicy, and herbal. The faint touch of cardamom in a dish could easily replace saffron. You must be careful not to overuse it because cardamom and become quite overpowering to a dish but the right amount will save the day.


3. Safflower

Safflower is a good substitute for saffron. It’s almost the same in the sense that they both come from flowers. However, the saffron spice is from the stigmata of the flower, while with safflower, the petals are used to extract the color that we like with saffron.

Its flavor is most subtle that saffron but it’s there. It is also subtle and sweet making it a perfect substitute for saffron.

Sweet Paprika

4. Sweet Paprika

Paprika comes from the capsicum annum. Paprika is a strong and familiar taste in cooking Spanish cuisine. It slightly colors food but not as much as saffron, turmeric, annatto or safflower. It definitely adds that layer of subtle sweetness to food, the same way saffron does but it’s not exactly the same. Even if not all paprika is smoked, it has that already certain hint of smokiness to it.

It’s best to pair paprika and turmeric together. Turmeric will take care of the taste while turmeric will take care of the color.


5. Annatto

Annatto comes from the achiote tree and it the seed form of it. Annatto produces a bright red color when steeped into oil or water. It definitely is a good substitute for saffron in the coloring department.

The flavor annatto is earthy and musky so it isn’t exactly the best overall substitute for saffron but it does produce subtle sweetness like saffron.


Hey there! I'm Isabel. I love cooking, dogs, and curling up with a good book! I share recipes for people who LOVE good flavorful food, to share with family and friends.



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