Saffron is a spice that comes from the flower of Crocus sativus, and it’s used to add flavor and color to food.
Moreover, it can also be used as an herbal remedy for things like depression, anxiety, insomnia, menstrual cramps, and more.
But did you know that saffron is one of the most expensive spices in the world? Due to this, it might not be possible for everyone to get their hands on this versatile herb.
If you want to use this incredible herb but don’t have hundreds or thousands of dollars lying around for it – I have some great news.
There are plenty of saffron substitutes that will give your dishes the same flavor and color as saffron without breaking the bank.
In this article, I’ll go over some of my favorite substitutes for saffron so you can keep enjoying all your favorite recipes while saving money at the same time.
Table of Contents
- What is Saffron?
- 7 Best Saffron Substitutes
- How To Use Saffron Substitutes
- What Does Saffron Taste Like?
- How to Tell if Saffron is Bad?
- What Does Saffron Smell Like?
- Can I Leave Saffron Out of a Recipe?
- Why Is Saffron so Expensive?
- Final Words
What is Saffron?
Saffron is known as the king of spices, and rightfully so. It’s derived from saffron crocus flowers, which produce beautiful yellow blossoms that are dried and turned into several bright red threads of saffron spice.
It’s one of the oldest spices in the world but also one of the most expensive; it can take over 1500 flowers to make just one ounce of saffron spice.
The flavor that saffron adds to recipes is unmatched, but because it’s so expensive that means you need to watch when and how much you use when cooking with saffron. If you’re using too much, your dish will end up tasting bitter.
The flavor of saffron can also enhance your mood, which is why it’s often added into dishes that are meant to be comforting or used as a remedy for depression and other ailments.
7 Best Saffron Substitutes
Turmeric is a great alternative to saffron for multiple reasons.
One of the main benefits of turmeric is that it can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, whereas saffron tends to be used more frequently in recipes with a lot of sugar or other ingredients that will cut the bitter edge from the spice.
Turmeric also has a very similar color to saffron, which means that you won’t have to spend as much time finding the right pan or mixing just the right amount of food coloring into your recipe.
In most cases, turmeric will give you a close-to-the-same flavor and aroma as saffron without the hefty price tag.
As its name implies, safflower comes from the same family as both the saffron crocus and turmeric plants.
This spice is bright orange in color, which means you can use it to replace saffron without needing any food coloring.
It also has a sweeter note than saffron, which means it pairs well with a lot of desserts and sweets.
However, you can also use safflower to add a hint of color and a slight floral aroma to savory dishes too.
If your recipe calls for saffron but you don’t have the money to spend on it, safflower is a great alternative.
Cardamom is another spice that’s not only similar to the flavor of saffron – it’s also considered very expensive too.
Like saffron, cardamom has a warm aroma and is used in both savory and sweet dishes, which means you can use it as a substitute in any recipe that calls for saffron.
It’s also a great idea to include cardamom when you are cooking with saffron since it has a similar flavor profile, which means it can enhance the aroma of your dishes.
4. Annatto Spice
Annatto will give your recipes the same beautiful orange color that you get from saffron while giving them that warm spice profile that’s hard to resist.
Annatto is actually made from the seeds of achiote trees, which are native to tropical climates in Central America.
It’s slightly sweeter than saffron with a mild peppery flavor, which makes it another great candidate for replacing saffron when cooking.
It pairs exceptionally well with seafood, rice dishes, and vegetables.
When you want to find a substitute for saffron, most people automatically assume that they’re going to have to go out and buy something extremely expensive or use food coloring.
However, one of the most powerful things about cooking with spices is that many of them are already sitting in your kitchen cupboard.
In this case, marigold flowers are a great alternative for saffron because they’re bright orange and have a similar floral aroma to saffron.
Plus, they taste almost identical to the spice – with a slightly more bitter finish – which means you can use them as a replacement in any recipe that calls for saffron.
Calendulas are bright orange flowers that come from the marigold family. These edible flowers have a similar flavor profile to saffron, which means you can use them as a substitute in any recipe that calls for savory spices or other flavors.
The downside is that calendulas aren’t always easy to find. However, if you live near a farmer’s market and you see them, they’re definitely worth picking up for your cooking needs.
Plus, they’re pretty affordable! A small number of flowers quickly add that beautiful orange color and warm saffron flavor to dishes.
7. Sweet Paprika
If you’re looking for a simple and affordable way to add flavor and color to your dishes, sweet paprika is the perfect substitute.
This spice comes from ground red peppers, such as cayenne or bell peppers that have been smoked over an open fire.
It’s made from dried red chilies and it has a really versatile range of uses.
Sweet paprika can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, which means it’s a great option for replacing saffron or turmeric without dramatically altering the flavor profile of your dish.
Cumin is one of the spices that are rich in iron and can gradually release its flavor over time.
It has a warm, earthy aroma that pairs well with saffron or turmeric when cooking, which means it can be used as an alternative to either spice in your recipes.
And similar to other saffron substitutes, it’s affordable too!
9. Food Coloring
If you’re looking for the simplest way to find a substitute for saffron, look no further than food coloring.
While it might not make sense to include food coloring in something that’s supposed to be healthy, every now and again there are recipes where it makes sense.
Some foods are made with saffron because of the color it adds, whether it’s used in pastry or pasta.
While you might not get the same flavor profile with food coloring since all of its flavors are artificial, sometimes that beautiful orange color is what makes your dish look appetizing.
Plus, some brands have created “natural” food coloring that includes ingredients like turmeric, annatto, and even sweet paprika, so you don’t have to worry about your food coming out looking unnaturally colored or tasting like chemicals.
How To Use Saffron Substitutes
When you’re cooking, it’s important to remember that sometimes the recipe might call for a specific spice because of how it colors the dish, not because of its flavor profile.
In these cases, it’s totally fine to use a substitute that’ll bring a similar color without adding a major flavor profile.
While it might not be ideal to include food coloring in recipes, sometimes it’s the best way of achieving that beautiful orange color – especially when the recipe only calls for a pinch of saffron or turmeric.
What Does Saffron Taste Like?
Saffron has a slightly bitter, woody taste and aroma. It may be an acquired taste for some people.
How to Tell if Saffron is Bad?
Saffron should have a slightly sweet, musty aroma. If it does not, it may be past its prime and could result in poor flavor intake when used.
What Does Saffron Smell Like?
It smells like hay and honey and tastes warm and sweet.
Can I Leave Saffron Out of a Recipe?
If you don’t have saffron, it’s perfectly fine to leave it out of a recipe.
This is especially true if the recipe only calls for a pinch of saffron and is not enough to add any real flavor.
In these cases, turmeric or ginger could be used as an alternative to saffron.
Why Is Saffron so Expensive?
You’re probably wondering why saffron is so expensive, especially since it comes from such a common flower.
Well, the answer is that there are several factors that contribute to its high price on the market today:
It’s a rare spice – while saffron is grown around the world, it’s only produced in a few countries. France, Greece, India, and Spain are the biggest producers of this spice.
Crocus sativus flowers need to be handpicked – Since each flower can yield just one or two stigmas in its saffron threads, it’s not exactly easy to work to get the amount needed for each recipe.
It takes a lot of work to turn the flowers into saffron spice – Once they are handpicked, the stigma is dried and then turned into powder or separated into strands that are used as is or cut into shorter strands.
It’s a time-consuming process that results in a high price per pound once the saffron is done being processed.
Different countries have different qualities of saffron – Some countries will even add other ingredients to their saffron, which is why it’s important to look for where your saffron is grown so you know what you’re getting.
The different grades of saffron – You can also find different grades of saffron, which means the prices will vary depending on the quality.
Grade 1 saffron is leaf-picked and has a high crocin content for vibrant color. Grade 2 saffron will have a more yellow color, while grade 3 is typically used in cooking.
Saffron is difficult to grow – Crocus sativus can only be planted at higher altitudes where it’s cool and dry, which also makes it difficult to harvest.
The flowers are very delicate too, so they need to be picked by hand.
I hope this article helps you find your way through cooking with saffron substitutes on a budget.
So next time you’re cooking with recipes that call for saffron, don’t fret; there are plenty of substitutes available.