Substitutes for the Saffron Spice


Robyn Mackenzie/iStock/Getty Images

Saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world. It is included in many recipes, especially those from Asia. Many people feel they cannot justify the expense of using saffron in their cooking and seek an alternative. There is no perfect substitute, however, there are a few other spices that can be used to mimic the flavor and color of saffron. Saffron can be bought in either powdered or thread form. Powdered saffron is easier to substitute, as it doesn’t hold as strong a flavor.


Top angle view of turmeric powder and dry turmeric

Visage/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Turmeric is sometimes referred to as the Indian saffron. It is a deep yellow color and so must be used carefully as a saffron substitute. Turmeric is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent and will help fight any infections in your body. It will help detox your liver and has anti-inflammatory properties beneficial to those suffering from arthritis. As a cooking herb, it can be purchased in either root form or powder. It will dye food a deep yellow if too much is used.



S847/iStock/Getty Images

Safflower is less expensive than saffron. It can be used to dye food the same color that it would be with saffron. It does not have the same taste, however, and would need to be used with something else to add taste. When trying to emulate the color, use up to eight times as much safflower as the recipe calls for of saffron.

Marigold Blossom

Yellow Marigold Flowers

keattikorn/iStock/Getty Images

Marigold blossom, or flowers, are perfect for matching the color of saffron. They do not have much of a flavor on their own and should be added with another spice. When following a recipe, double the amount of marigold blossom used to replace the saffron.

Annatto Seeds

Annatto 1

Karen Ilagan/Hemera/Getty Images

Annatto seeds can be cooked to produce a strongly colored liquid which has a slight saffron taste. Steep a spoonful of seeds in 1/4 cup of boiling water for at least 30 minutes or until the the liquid is a deep saffron color. Strain the seeds away and boil the liquid until only half remains. Add this liquid to the recipe to taste.