What Spices Are Similar to Saffron?
14/12/2022

What Spices Are Similar to Saffron?

Some cooks are looking for a cheaper substitute for saffron. Yet, there is no such thing, but there are some similar replacement spices that produce the same or almost the same red coloring in dishes. The taste and aroma of saffron cannot be achieved using any other spice. Similar spices do not have the same chemical properties as saffron, and they cannot be replaced in terms of health benefits too.

What are saffron substitutes?

This is a frequent question that some chief and professional cook ask. If you ask us, our answer is that you cannot replace saffron with any other spice, as saffron is a nutritious and color-pushed-up spice that cannot be replaced with any other similar herb. No other herb can give foods such a taste and aroma. However, there are some other spices that can be used alternatively, not with the same quality of aroma and taste. These spices can be replaced with saffron when the coloring effect is the only focus.

It is so hard to find and recommend a replacement for saffron as this spice is unique, with its special aroma and medicinal effects. No other duplicate of saffron can be introduced, but this post help you find some similar spices.

List of saffron substitutes or the most similar spices to saffron:

  1. Ground cumin
  2. Safflower
  3. Curry powder
  4. Turmeric 
  5. Annatto
  6. Sweet paprika powder
  7. Saffron stamen

What is the most suitable ratio of saffron substitutes against saffron?

Surely, you cannot use the same amount of saffron substitute spice to replace it with saffron itself. In some cases, you need to use double the amount of saffron substitute spice to achieve certain results. The below table helps you with saffron substitute ratios:

Replacement spiceRatios
(replacement spice
against saffron)
Safflower1 tsp =1 tsp
AnnattoTo be self-adjusted      
Curry powderTo be self-adjusted 
TurmericLarge pinch=1.2 tsp
Ground cumin1 tsp= 1.2 tsp
Sweet paprika powder1 tsp= 1 tsp

The above-mentioned spices are easy to find and save you money in case you seek something similar to saffron with less quality. 

Turmeric as saffron replacement

1- Turmeric as saffron replacement

Turmeric is widely used instead of saffron. Dry turmeric has a yellowish color, while it can produce a golden-yellow hue, a color very much like saffron, to your food. Normally ½ teaspoon of turmeric produces almost the same coloring as a large pinch of saffron. 

Please be aware that some merchants may mix it with real saffron to improve their profit margin.

 

 

2- Safflower as saffron replacement

safflower as saffron replacement

Safflower is very much like real saffron from the outside look as it can be mistakenly used or purchased for real saffron. Moreover, Indian people may mistakenly call safflower as saffron. Safflower is a good choice if you are looking for an alternative to saffron flower and a saffron-like color. One teaspoon of safflower gives almost the same result as one teaspoon of saffron. Safflower releases good reddish color for pasta, risotto, paella, or biryani dishes.

Safflower is so much like saffron in appearance; therefore, it is most likely to be sold as saffron in the market. We mentioned tips to distinguish pure saffron from fake ones in “Seven Easy Ways to Identify Real Saffron” to help you avoid buying fake saffron. 

3- Annatto as saffron replacement

Annatto as saffron replacement

Annatto originated from a tropical area of South America and is known as a “poor man’s saffron” spice. Annatto can be afforded at a much lower budget and is a perfect substitute for saffron in dishes like Caldo de allo, chicken in achiote, Cochinita pibil, and such. This spice gives a great saffron-ish color effect.

The taste of annatto is quite different because it only tastes a little sweet and peppery. This is not a very big problem as a small pinch of annatto is almost tasteless. 

To get the most coloring of annatto, it is best to soak 1 teaspoon in 1.4 cups of water and let it brew for 30 minutes. Please note that this saffron alternative is mostly used for recipes with water. 

Ground Cumin as saffron replacement

4- Ground cumin as saffron replacement

This is an Egyptian spice that is mostly used in middle eastern cuisine. Ground cumin is a bit earthier and more bitter than saffron. Having that said, you may need to add some sugar. 

Ground cumin is not as good as other saffron alternatives, yet it is not something to skip. Ground cumin is easy to find and little amount of this spice (nearly 2.3 teaspoons) equals 1 teaspoon of saffron. 

5- Sweet paprika powder as saffron replacement

sweet paprika as saffron replacement

Sweet paprika is the red pepper that is used as dried and ground powder. This is an easy-to-find, cheap alternative to saffron. Yet, paprika powder has a sweet taste with no pungent scent. 

Make sure you do not confuse it with hot paprika or smoked paprika, as those spices make your dish bitter and spicier. 

 

 

curry powder as saffron replacement

6- Curry powder as saffron replacement

Curry can be found in every kitchen. Curry powder is originally from India and makes a delicious flavor and good color to the dishes. Curry can produce yellow to red-orange coloring depending on the recipe. Please make sure that you use the correct amount of curry, because adding too much of it can result in a completely different dish. This is why cooks need to be careful while adding spices like curry. 

7- Saffron stamen as saffron replacement

saffron stamen as saffron replacement

Saffron stamen is used as an alternative for saffron stigmas, for its much cheaper price. Saffron stamen is used in different Iranian stews, soups, ice creams or in baking cakes and sweets. This saffron replacement spice produces a more yellowish color to the dish, comparing to other saffron alternatives. For a reddish coloring, you can take advantage of other spices mentioned above.

* Important Tip: Saffron stamen produces almost the same aroma as the stigmas, and this is the main advantage of this saffron alternative over all other options.

Not all of the above-mentioned spices are good to be used in all dishes instead of saffron. Those spices are similar to saffron in terms of the red-coloring effect. Please note that it may have a different taste or aroma. If you want to replace saffron with any of the spices in this list, you need to be careful about the equal amount compared to saffron. 

What tastes similar to saffron?

Turmeric is the best replacement to produce a saffron-like taste in food, while, safflower produces the best saffron-like red-coloring effect. Therefore, when possible, we can mix safflower and turmeric to give our dish a saffron-like taste and coloring. 

Yet, please note that you should not expect to get the highest quality saffron-like effect, by combining turmeric and safflower. Plus, they certainly do not have the same health benefits or chemical properties.

Where to get saffron?

As a saffron producer and exporter, we advise buying filaments grade 4 or 3 saffron if you are low on budget. Filaments grade 4 or 3 is good for home, low-budget saffron users. SunLand produces all types of Iranian saffron in bulk and consumer packaging. Consumer packaging products are the best choices for home uses and gifting purposes. Check consumer packages and place your order online!

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