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Saffron is a very expensive spice that isn’t very easy to find. So, if you’re about to make a recipe that calls for saffron, chances are you may have a hard time finding this spice, or the price tag is not justifiable to you. Substitutes for this spice can save the day.
Here, you will find 7 best substitutes for saffron that will not break the bank. In fact, some of these are in your kitchen cabinet right now!
What is saffron?
Saffron is a spice derived from a flower called crocus sativus or saffron crocus that is native to Greece. The saffron spice are the golden-reddish stigmas that are plucked out of the flower, dried and sold as an expensive spice to flavor foods and a food dye.
This spice is super expensive because it is very labor intensive to produce and it takes at least 70,000 crocus flowers to get 1 pound of saffron spice!
Saffron is pungent, exotic, sweet and floral and adds a bright yellow color to dishes like paella, bouillabaisse, saffron rice and risotto. If you find saffron that is bitter, be aware that this is imitation saffron and not the authentic spice.
No other spice in the world can mimic the flavor of saffron, so if you can, consider purchasing it, especially if you’re about to make a recipe like saffron rice for instance.
Nonetheless, if you cannot find saffron or you don’t want to spend the money, there are quite a few spices that you can use as good stand ins, especially in terms of color such as turmeric, marigold powder, Annatto, curry, sweet paprika, golchin saffron liquid and safflower.
Substitutes for saffron
Turmeric is the most popular, if not the best saffron substitute. Made from dried and pulverized roots of the Curcuma longa, this bright yellow spice has a strong earthy, peppery flavor, which is unlike the sweet, floral flavor of saffron. It can work as a substitute for saffron because it imparts a similar bright yellow color to food.
Use turmeric to replace saffron in recipes like paella, rice, eggs, chicken, marinades, broths and stews.
How much turmeric to substitute for saffron? Substitute about 15 threads of saffron with 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric.
Marigold spice or Powdered dried marigold flowers is another good substitute for saffron and is in fact called ‘Imeretian saffron’ after the Imereti region in Georgia.
This spice has a nice earthy, slightly spicy and slightly bitter flavor with hints of mint and tarragon. It can be used to replace saffron in recipes like sauces, soups, chicken stews and any other dish that calls for saffron in terms of color, but not so much flavor.
Substitute on a 1:1 ratio.
Annatto, also referred to as ‘poor man’s saffron’ in Latin America and the Caribbean, is another spice that can be used as a substitute for saffron. Annatto is a bright orange-red seed from the achiote tree that is popularly used as a food dye and a seasoning.
Annatto can be used in either the seed form, as a powder, as a paste, or infused into an oil although it is much easier to use in powdered form or as a paste. It imparts a bright yellow-orange hue to foods as well as a nutty, slightly sweet flavor with hints of peppermint and nutmeg.
Use annatto to replace saffron in recipes like sauces, stews and marinades, especially for adding that lovely color to the dish.
The flavor of saffron and annatto are nothing alike, so don’t expect this substitute to impart any saffron-like flavor to your dish.
Curry powder is a spice mix made from turmeric, cumin, ginger, and black pepper. In a pinch, curry powder can be used as a last minute substitute for saffron, when you have no other options available due to the turmeric powder it contains.
This spice has more complex flavors than both turmeric and saffron, so use less curry powder than you would saffron in any recipe. Use curry powder to replace saffron in stews, soups, marinades, vegetables, meats and more.
Golchin saffron liquid
If you can’t find saffron or you don’t want to spend the money on saffron threads, consider using golchin saffron liquid as a substitute. Made with water, oil and saffron.
Some people love this because they claim it helps them to add that coveted saffron flavor to their dishes at a good price. Others not so much. They claim it has no saffron taste or smell at all.
If you do try it, use about 10 drops of this saffron liquid to replace a pinch of saffron.
Safflower spice, also referred to as American saffron or Mexican saffron are the dried safflower petals that can be used as a replacement for saffron. This spice is great for adding that nice yellow color to your dishes without adding much flavor.
Safflower spice has a rich sweet, chocolaty smell, that diminishes when cooked, but adds little to no actual flavor to a dish.