Best Substitute for Saffron - Spice Hacks 101 - Public Goods Blog

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The Best Substitute for Saffron

Saffron is a delicious and vibrant spice that is used in a lot of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes. If you can’t get your hands on it, don’t worry – there are great substitutes for saffron you can use to get the same great flavor and color.

Image of red saffron
Now that cooking advanced meals at home has become not only a wide-scale hobby but somewhat commonplace, exotic herbs and spices are in high demand. One of those highly sought-after ingredients is saffron. Saffron can be used in a lot of different dishes, but it’s known for making delicious paellas and seafood stews.

But, even though saffron is more accessible than ever, it can still be difficult to find. Luckily, there are substitutes for saffron that are available in every grocery store and supermarket. If you’re looking for a substitute for saffron, you’ve come to the right place. In this guide, we’ll go over several herbs and spices that you can use in place of saffron, and how to prepare them so they are close to its unique color and taste.

Keep reading to learn more!

What Is Saffron?

Saffron is a spice that’s harvested from the Crocus sativus flower, widely known as the saffron crocus. Saffon is vibrant red in color, and it imparts some of that color into dishes, giving them a bright yellow hue. Along with its color, saffron also has a sweet, floral taste that gives dishes a unique depth of flavor.

One of the major pain points of saffron is that it is notoriously expensive, clocking in at $10-$13 per gram. Saffron is the dried stigma of the crocus, and each flower only produces three stigmas total. So, a lot of time and labor go into the cultivation process. Luckily, however, you don’t need much to get that beautiful color or the subtle floral taste throughout your dish, so even a gram can last for a while.

Because of the high price tag and demand, it’s not uncommon to come across fake saffron from less than reputable sellers. To know that you’re getting the actual thing, be sure to look at the price tag and then smell it (you should smell a scent that’s similar to sweet hay.) Lastly, it should be a vibrant red color.

Is Saffron Hard to Find?

Though saffron is quickly becoming a popular household staple, good varieties of it aren’t available in most grocery stores. You can generally find saffron in specialty food stores or online. If you do choose to buy it online, be sure that it’s from a reputable seller.

What Spices Can I Substitute for Saffron

If you’re not able to get your hands on saffron, that’s okay! There are several spices that you can use to either get the taste or vibrant color that saffron imparts. Below, we’ve listed three of the most popular and widely available alternatives.


Turmeric, also known as saffron of the Indies, is a root that belongs to the ginger family. It’s been used for centuries as a way to reduce inflammation, but it’s also a great ingredient to use in a variety of dishes. In fact, saffron and turmeric are often used together to create culinary masterpieces. Because it’s a relatively common ingredient, many untrustworthy saffron merchants lace saffron with turmeric to reduce their costs, which is why it’s so important to remain vigilant when shopping for spices.

Turmeric is generally sold in powder form, and a little goes a long way. Even a single teaspoon is enough to make large pots of rice dishes, stews and curries turn a vibrant yellow. Additionally, large quantities of turmeric powder can make dishes taste acrid, so start with a small amount of the spice and work your way up.


Annatto is derived from the seeds of the achiote tree and is known as the poor man’s saffron because it is probably the closest spice to it. But, you have to do a little bit of prep in order to get it to work in the same ways that saffron does. First, you need to steep it in warm water for at least 30 minutes. Then, strain the annatto out and use the water in your dishes. If you’re planning on using the annatto water in a dish, reduce the amount of liquid that the recipe calls for by a quarter to account for it.


Safflower is a plant whose leaves can be used as food or medicine. While safflower won’t impart the same flavor as saffron, it will provide the same vibrant color to your food. Simply grind and add it to your dishes in powder form. To use this in place of saffron, you’ll need to add 5-8 times more than is actually called for in order to achieve the bright color. This addition won’t affect the taste of your dish.

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