Saffron is considered the most expensive spice in the world. It is produced by a flower called crocus sativus.
It is high in antioxidants and comes with many health benefits. You may hardly find it in common grocery stores but there are similar spices and substitutes for saffron to use in many dishes.
Saffron has a sweet floral taste. It has a bright red color and is also used as a food coloring. It is used in Mediterranean, Asian and European cuisines. You can add it to both sweet and savory dishes including soups, stews, sauces, desserts, and beverages.
Of course, you can’t find any other spice that’s as unique as saffron but the options below could be good saffron alternatives.
The best alternatives to saffron are safflower, ground turmeric, marigold flowers, cardamom, annatto, sweet paprika, curry powder, calendula, and food coloring.
Best Substitutes for Saffron To Try
While the saffron flower is seasonal, safflower is an annual flower the spice of which has a sweet, chocolatey, and tobacco flavor. It also comes in the same color as saffron but you shouldn’t confuse them.
Safflower is often considered a cheaper alternative to saffron that anyone can afford. However, it’s not easy to find but if you get it, then you can use it instead of saffron in many recipes.
Just like saffron, you can use safflower both in sweet and savory dishes including cold salads, soups, stews, sauces, and beverages such as healthy herbal teas. You can use it as food coloring too.
2. Ground Turmeric
Ground turmeric is the next easy alternative to safflower. It has a yellow color which is quite powerful and will surely reflect in your dish. As for the taste, it’s earthy and bitter with peppery notes. You can add it to savory dishes to make them brighter in color as well as enhance the flavor.
Ground turmeric goes well with roasted vegetables, rice, greens, soups, and stews. You can make tea with turmeric or add it to smoothies. It’s another natural food coloring only in a bright yellow hue.
3. Marigold Flowers
Native to North America, tropical America, and South America, the marigold flower is an annual herb the petals of which are used as a spice. It has an earthy, spicy flavor with green apple-orangey hints. It has a pale yellow color.
You can use it with rice dishes, soups, other savory dishes, teas, mixed drinks, and desserts. It gives dishes an interesting earthy flavor and adds a sunny yellow color.
You can buy them from stores and markets as well as grow them in your garden, as they require little care and are easy to grow.
Cardamom is a popular seasoning native to India, Sri Lanka, and Guatemala. It’s easy to find ground cardamom and whole cardamom pods in spice sections of common grocery stores.
It’s a pod spice coming from the ginger family and has a fruity, mint-like flavor. You can consider it for sweet and savory recipes.
It goes well with fruits, baked goods, teas, poultry, meat, lentils, rice, and oranges. As you see, it’s a versatile spice and can be added to many dishes to replace saffron.
5. Annatto Powder
Annatto is an orange-red spice used both as a seasoning and as a food coloring. It’s made of the seeds of the achiote tree and is native to tropical regions in South and Central America.
It has a slightly sweet and peppery taste. You can use annatto powder for soups, stews, marinades, and sauces. It will give a bright orange-red color to your dishes.
Besides the powdered version, you can also buy the seeds of annatto which should be soaked in oil before use.
6. Sweet Paprika
Sweet paprika, made of sweet red peppers, is perhaps the easiest substitute for saffron as it’s available in all grocery stores. It has a mild sweetness and peppery taste.
Compared to saffron, paprika has a stronger flavor. It will also give that red color to the dish. You can add sweet paprika to many savory dishes including soups, baked dishes, vegetables, eggs, and of course meat.
Since it’s mainly used with savory dishes you can mix a little bit of red hot pepper with it to enhance the color and the taste of the dish. Note, that this is only for the case if you like spicy dishes and your recipe compliments them.
7. Curry Powder
Curry powder is a yellow mixture of condiments mainly used in Indian cuisine. It is made of turmeric, ginger, black pepper, and cumin. Due to this combination of flavors, it has a complex taste with sweet and savory hints.
You can use curry powder instead of saffron in savory dishes. It will enhance the flavor of your dish and will give it a yellow color. You need to use it in smaller quantities as it tastes strong. You can use it with soups, stews, stir-fries, rice, meats, vegetables, sauces, and marinades.
Calendula is one of the hard-to-find substitutes but perhaps you have it in hand. You can add calendula flower petals to rice, and grain dishes as well as salads to substitute saffron. It is yellow and you can find it in the herbs section.
Smash that dry herb into a powder and use it as a spice. It has a mild, slightly bitter, and herbal flavor. You can add it to salads, frittatas, salsas, soups, sauces, and casseroles as well as make a healthy herbal tea with it.
9. Food Coloring
In case you use saffron to color food and the taste doesn’t matter, the easiest way to substitute it is using food coloring. Food colorings are tasteless and they are meant just to give your desired color to the dish or dessert.
Use yellow or orange food coloring and as a result, you’ll get a bright appetizing dish. This is the least recommended substitute but can save your dish if you need to maintain its color.
FAQs on Saffron
Why is saffron so pricey?
It’s because it takes a lot of effort to produce it. 75,000 saffron flowers are required to make one pound of saffron spice.
How should I store saffron?
It’s important to store saffron properly as it tends to lose its qualities especially if kept under the light. So, store it in an airtight container and keep it in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.
What are the health benefits of saffron?
Saffron is a powerful antioxidant. It can help fight depressive symptoms and improve mood, it can reduce appetite, and help lose weight. You can make herbal teas with saffron and use them as a healthy drink.
Saffron is usually sold at spice and herb stores but not every retailer includes it in their list of spices because 1 kilogram of saffron may cost $10.000.
Anyway, some of these substitutes for saffron can help you give the same color to your dish and some others will bring a similar flavor. They are more affordable and easier to find.