Top 4 Saffron Substitutes

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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If you ever need a good saffron substitute in the kitchen, there are quite a few options that can mimic the style and flavor profile.

What is Saffron?

Saffron is made of the small red stigmas of the Crocus sativus flower. Native to Southeast Asia, saffron is now found across the globe and has been in use for more than 2,000 years. This spice is used to flavor a number of Asian and tropical dishes and is also a coloring agent in foods. In terms of flavor, saffron is both floral and pungent, with a touch of sweetness that can make a basic dish seem far more complex.

Due to the fact that it must be picked by hand, however, and the sheer volume that is required to make the spice, the price of this ingredient can be quite high. Whatever your reason for needing a saffron substitute, some of your best options may already be in your kitchen!

A bowl of turmeric powder and a couple of turmeric roots on a wooden table

You can add turmeric powder to milk and make golden milk. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Substitutes for Saffron

The best substitutes for saffron include turmeric, safflower, cardamom, marigold blossoms, and annatto, among others.

Turmeric

Perhaps the most popular saffron substitute in many kitchens around the world is turmeric, which is actually known as Indian saffron. With its powerful antioxidants, it can deliver a similar nutrient burst in your foods, while also mimicking the distinctive flavor of saffron. However, don’t use them in equal quantities, as turmeric is more potent and can overwhelm a dish very easily.

Marigold Blossoms

Marigold blossoms do have a recognizable bite that some people associate with saffron, and it also imparts a yellow or orange color to foods, which is also in line with saffron.

Cardamom

Cardamom has an earthy aroma and flavor, but it is distinctly different than saffron, in that it isn’t spicy. Some people will replace saffron in their recipes with cardamom, but it isn’t your best choice.

Annatto

If you are trying to mimic the color of saffron in a dish, annatto is your best choice, although it will change the flavor of the dish.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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