Even though saffron lasts very long as you only have 2-5 threads to cook a meal, not everyone wants to spend $20 for just 2 grams. Luckily, there are some substitutes for saffron that will make your meal as flavorful and colorful without affecting your monthly budget.
If you run out of saffron but want to make your dishes flavorful, here is a list of the 8 best saffron substitutes
- Sweet paprika
- Marigold flowers
8 Best Saffron Substitutes That Will Go Well With Any Dish
Saffron is one of the best yet most expensive spices, which not only give a dish an incredibly pleasant taste but also a light orange-golden hue. However, real saffron obtained from the dried stigmas of the flowers of the sown crocus is quite difficult to find in a local grocery shop due to its rarity and high price. We have extensively reviewed dozens of saffron alternative spices and have selected the best 8 substitutes for saffron threads that you can try today!
Is there a cheaper substitute for saffron? Turmeric is a cheaper substitute for saffron as it has excellent coloring properties, peppery spice and earthy flavor, and a pungent, earthy-sweet aroma. Sweet paprika is another cheap saffron substitute thanks to its dying properties, fruity flavor, and fragrant sweet pepper odor.
Let’s dive into all of these substitutes for saffron threads and how you can use them to make your dishes perfect.
Turmeric is by far the most popular saffron alternative and is used in rice, pasta, fish, meat (beef, pork, veal), poultry, baked foods, bread, muffins, ice cream, and even hot and cold drinks like lemonades and tea. It has a mild slightly bitter, ginger-like taste and a delicate pleasant aroma.
Turmeric’s coloring properties are almost identical to those of saffron – turmeric gives dishes a noble yellow or orange hue and earthy, ginger-like aroma. Turmeric is often added to rice dishes, for example, risotto or pilaf, so turmeric is by far the best saffron substitute for rice dishes. However, it is also popular in meat and fish dishes. To avoid pungent taste and smell, add turmeric in small amounts, at the tip of a teaspoon per serving.
Turmeric goes well with omelets, hard-boiled eggs, light sauces, soups, and vegetable salads. It also goes well with chicken broth and poultry dishes. Turmeric is often used in the confectionery industry and as a food coloring for liqueurs, marinades, butter and cheese, and mustard. In addition to its beautiful color, this substitute for saffron threads keeps food fresh and makes it last longer!
This flower has been used since ancient times as a dye to obtain a yellow, red-orange color. Safflower has a bitter-spicy aroma so it is often used as saffron spice substitute. It is one of the best natural ingredients for acquiring the desired hue in a dish. Safflower is a perfect substitute for saffron in baking due to its strong earthy and floral aroma. Safflower can also be added to tea for an unusual color and aroma.
Safflower oil is great for salads and cold snacks as it does not freeze even at low temperatures. It is transparent and has almost no taste of its own, but it has an unusual floral scent. Safflower is perfect if you are into Georgian cuisine. Try adding a bit of safflower to beef in walnut-tomato sauce, boiled pork, or fried tripe with tomatoes.
Paprika belongs to the mildly hot pepper varieties, it has a pleasantly sweet taste with a slight bitterness, so it is also a perfect saffron substitute for rice, meat, fish, and in baking. Sweet paprika can be added to almost any dish, including omelets, salads, pies, meat, poultry, fish, and pasta. It is usually sold in ground form. Sweet paprika is often used to make soups, meat (pork, beef, veal), poultry (chicken, turkey), sauces and marinades (for example, BBQ sauce), appetizers, and salads, vegetable stews, side dishes, desserts, and bread.
As an excellent substitute for saffron threads, paprika has good coloring properties and will give a pleasantly sweet but spicy aroma to almost any dish. To make the color of the paprika dark burgundy, and the taste a little brighter, fry paprika in a dry, preheated frying pan, over low heat, stirring constantly before adding it to the dish.
Cumin is widely used in cooking as a saffron spice substitute. It is used to flavor cheeses and egg dishes and is added to pastries and baked goods. Cumin also goes well with fried or stewed meat dishes (especially in combination with mint). The smell of this seasoning is best revealed when preheating in a pan.
Cumin has a pungent, bitter-spicy taste, a bit like anise, and a slight dill smell. This saffron alternative ideally complements vegetables (zucchini, eggplant, carrot) and meat stews (pork, beef, lamb, veal). It is often added to bread and pies. Due to its strong tart aroma, it will add unusual piquancy to many dishes. In European cuisine, especially in German and Scandinavian, cumin is traditionally added to stew with poultry and vegetables, as well as to cabbage.
Curry can be either very spicy (as it is usually prepared in Asian countries), or moderately spicy (which is more typical for European countries). Its taste is very similar to that of saffron – slightly pungent and bitter. Curry has a complex, pleasant and refreshing aroma, which gives spice notes and orange hue to the dishes. Curry is one of the most popular spices in the world, so you can’t do without it in the kitchen. It is most often used for meat, vegetables, sauces, omelets, and soups. Sometimes it is used to color and make the flavor of the dough brighter.
Curry is usually added to dishes made from vegetables and rice, but it is also popular for meat and fish dishes. For example, in India, curry is added to dhal (traditional soup), chicken curry (the dish of the same name with the seasoning), basmati rice, pies, etc. Curry is also used to make sauces and broths, added in desserts, drinks, and even dairy products.
Cardamom is one of the most popular spices in Eastern and Western European cuisines. The taste of cardamom is slightly pungent, with a hint of lemon, and it is often used as a replacement for saffron. It has a specific camphor smell, so it is added to sauces and gravies. In Western European cuisine, cardamom is used in soups (especially peas, beans, lentils, or legumes), potato and rice dishes.
Cardamom seeds give a wonderful aroma and delicate spicy taste to vegetable dishes, especially stews, mashed potatoes, and hodgepodge. In the cuisines of many countries, cardamom, in combination with other spices, is added to meat dishes and minced meat from veal, beef, and lamb. Together with onions and garlic, cardamom is perfect for preparing poultry. In the USA, it is often added to barbecued dishes.
Cardamom is used to improve the taste of sausages and pates. Combined with nutmeg, cumin, or saffron, cardamom is an excellent flavoring agent for boiled fish and seafood sauces. It is used to enhance the taste and aroma of fish soups and minced meat. Cardamom is often used in desserts (milk puddings, curd spreads, fruit salads) to add an exquisite taste.
Red annatto seeds are used in cooking as a substitute for saffron threads to add a subtle floral scent and rich color to various dishes. For example, annatto is used to give an orange or red color to butter, margarine, cheese, and smoked fish.
The British and French use it to color cheese. In Latin American cuisine, annatto seeds are used to flavor and color drinks. As a seasoning, they are added to chicken, turkey, fish, and shrimp dishes.
Annatto seeds can be steeped in hot water until the color reaches the desired saturation. This water can be added to rice or legume dishes. Annatto is used to add flavor to vegetable dishes (beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkin, bell peppers). Annatto seeds are often added to marinades for meat, most often for pork. Thanks to this, the meat acquires a rich color and a pleasant taste. Annatto is also used to give color to sauces.
Marigold Flowers are not only used in folk medicine but also in cooking. It gives the dishes a pungent and tart taste, so it is perfect for dressings and salads, as it makes them more savory and aromatic. Marigold flowers are also used to make soups, meat and fish dishes, and even pastries.
Marigold flowers are used in cooking mainly as a dye. But taking into account its specific mildly citrusy to subtly spicy taste, calendula is also a good saffron substitute for soups, liqueurs, drinks, salads, pasta, and other dishes. Marigold flowers are appreciated for their rich color and aroma. It can be added to main dishes, a side dish for meat, a seasoning for soups, a component of a vegetable salad. Calendula is sometimes added to oatmeal, puddings, dumplings, and wine.
Best Saffron Substitutes FAQ
What can I use instead of saffron? Turmeric, safflower, sweet paprika, cumin, and curry are the most popular saffron spice substitutes that have excellent coloring properties, sweet but peppery flavor, and a strong earthy aroma. All of these ingredients can be found in a local store all year round and are affordable.
What is the best substitute for saffron in baking? Turmeric and curry are the best saffron substitutes for baking as they add lively, peppery essence and make the dish (poultry, meat, fish, rice and pasta dishes, etc.) more flavorful and aromatic. These saffron substitutes can also be added to bread, muffins, and vegetables.
What is the best substitute for saffron in sweets? Even though turmeric has a peppery spicy flavor, it is the best substitute for saffron in sweets thanks to its delicious earthy flavor and noble orange and yellow colors. Turmeric is often added to cookies, muffins, donuts, candies, and even ice cream to make them spicier.
What is the best substitute for saffron in paella? Turmeric and sweet paprika are the best substitutes for saffron in paella as they have a pleasant earthy taste and a slightly bitter aftertaste that is perfect for paella. Turmeric and sweet paprika add a peppery spicy flavor and a noble yellow hue to paella.
What is the best substitute for saffron in rice and risotto? Curry and turmeric are the best substitutes for saffron in rice and risotto thanks to their earthy and bitter, almost musky, with a bit of peppery spice flavor. However, sweet paprika and cumin are often used as saffron substitutes in rice, too.