saffron substitutes

Top 6 Saffron Substitutes Go Well In Any of Your Meals

Cooking with saffron is almost an indulgence for most of us. This spice is delicate, aromatic, and expensive. That’s why cooking with saffron can seem impossible for some of us, in which case, knowing what spices to use instead can be very helpful.

If you like Moroccan, Mediterranean, or Spanish foods, then you know how important saffron can be. It does seem impossible to find this spice at times, but why should we give up our favorite foods? Finding a substitute can be a life and money saver.

What Is Saffron?

This bright red spice is considered one of the world’s most delicate in the world. Saffron comes from a flower known as the saffron crocus. This spice now comes from Iran, Greece, Morocco, and India.

Saffron is very subtle and aromatic. It tastes slightly sweet and complex. The flower only grows for one week a year and harvest needs to occur by hand and in the morning. It will take about 1,000 flowers to make one ounce of saffron, so it is hard to come by and very expensive. 

This spice may not be available year-round anywhere, and if you do find it, it can cost up to $15 per gram. That’s why many people save it only for special occasions and use a substitute in day-to-day recipes.

What Can I Replace Saffron With?

Since it is  expensive and difficult to find, these saffron substitutes can work in various dishes and recipes:

For Cooking, Paella, Risotto, and Biryani

#1. Turmeric

This herb is considered a superfood, and rightly so, as it is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. However, turmeric is also very flavorful and has a strong yellow-orange color. In some cases, some places will sell turmeric mixed with saffron to save money.

You can use turmeric when cooking all sorts of things, including paella, risotto, biryani, and curry. Add the same amount that your recipe indicates, but keep in mind that turmeric has a stronger earthy flavor. You may want to add other spices to make the dish sweet and subtle.

#2. Safflower

This spice is called the “Mexican saffron” or azafran. Safflower comes from a completely different flower, though, and the flavor is milder. You can use the same amount of safflower as you would saffron, but you may want to add more spices for aroma.

Often, people confuse saffron with safflower, but they aren’t the same and the latter is much cheaper. Use safflower in making paella, risotto, pasta, biryani, or sauces. To get this spice, try your local grocery store or a Latin American food store.

#3. Sweet Paprika

Sweet paprika is the easiest replacement for saffron, as it is easy to find and very affordable. Paprika has a vibrant red color and a sweet and slightly bitter flavor. To replace saffron, use ½ teaspoon of sweet paprika for every one teaspoon of saffron.

You can find sweet paprika everywhere, but try the spice section at your local grocery or organic store. This spice is great for cooking paella, sauces, risotto, biryani, and curry. You can mix more spices for a similar aroma to what saffron adds.

For Baking, Soup, and Spanish Rice

#4. Cardamom

While the flavor of cardamom is sweet, spicy, and earthy, it is still a good choice for certain dishes. You can find cardamom in any grocery stores, organic markets, and specialty stores. Use about half the amount as you would saffron, as this has a stronger aroma and flavor. 

Cardamom is a good choice when you are baking and cooking things like soup, rice, or sauces. Consider adding a bit of sweetness to the dish as well, as cardamom can be a little overpowering.

See More: Cardamom Substitutes

#5. Annatto

This ingredient is a food coloring that comes from the seeds of the achiote tree. However, using annatto can be a little more complicated. You will need to steep about one teaspoon of the seeds in water or oil for about half an hour.

Strain the liquid and add it to your cooking, especially when making rice, soups, sauces, and even before baking. Consider adding more spices and sweetness to mimic the flavors of saffron. Finding this liquid may be a little hard, but try a Latin American food store or a specialty store.

#6. Cumin

Cumin is one of those spices that goes well in most dishes, but it also tastes more bitter and earthy than saffron. Still, in a pinch, using cumin goes a long way in making soups, sauces, rice, meat dishes, and even in baking.

You can find cumin in any grocery store, as it is a common ingredient in many cuisines.

You can use about ⅔ teaspoon of cumin for every teaspoon of saffron. Make sure you add something sweet too to counterbalance the earthiness and citrus from cumin. You can also mix cumin along with turmeric, paprika, or curry for a more complex flavor profile.

See More: Cumin Replacements


Is there a cheaper substitute for saffron?

Turmeric, safflower, and annatto are all much cheaper substitutes for saffron. All the items on this list are easier to find and more affordable. If you need the color that saffron adds, use turmeric or safflower.

What is the best substitute for saffron in paella?

Saffron is an essential ingredient in paella, so there is no real replacement for it. However, you can use turmeric, safflower, or paprika for color and flavor. Add a little more garlic and other seasonings for more flavor.

How can you tell real saffron?

To differentiate between real saffron or fake saffron, you need to pay attention to the appearance. Saffron threads look like trumpets and when you rub them, they leave a very clear trace of orange and yellow on your fingers. Also, real saffron smells sweet but tastes slightly bitter.


Using saffron is truly a gourmet experience that not everyone can afford. Some of us haven’t even seen saffron available in a while, or if we do, it is in small quantities and for a large sum of money. Use any of these 6 alternatives that are more affordable, easy to find, and very delicious.

saffron replacements

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