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10 Best Saffron Substitutes for Cooking

The best saffron substitutes to use in cooking include turmeric, paprika, cardamom, and curry powder.

These alternatives are a great way to add color and flavor to any dish, especially if saffron gives you sticker shock.

Saffron is a notoriously expensive spice, and most home cooks don’t have it in the spice rack. 

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If you do, it’s tucked behind glass with a sign saying, ‘Break in case of spice emergency.’

Thankfully, some spices can mirror its unique earthy, floral, and honey-like taste. 

And some even deliver that beautiful orange flair that makes your curry pop!

So, cancel your loan application and check out some more affordable saffron substitutes!

What Is Saffron?

Saffron is a beautiful sunset orange spice that comes from the saffron crocus. 

The powder is created by drying the stigma, also known as the red thread at the center of the flower. It’s then ground into saffron powder.

Harvesting saffron is very tedious, and it takes a lot of flowers to make one jar. On average, it takes 75,000 flowers to make one pound of saffron, hence the high price tag.

However, the expense is worth the amazing flavors saffron brings to a dish. 

Saffron is earthy, with a sweet honey-like quality and floral undertones. 

And just one pinch of saffron adds such a beautiful red color to cooked dishes. 

But if you don’t have the extra cash to splurge on this exotic spice, fear not! Your pantry is likely stocked with spices that capture the essence of saffron. 

Best Saffron Substitutes

These substitutes are a great way to deliver floral, earthy, and sweet notes to dishes like curry or soup. 

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1. Turmeric + Paprika

When turmeric and paprika combine their powers, they capture the color and flavor of saffron. 

Tumeric delivers that lovely orange coloring found in saffron, and a dash of paprika adds a gentle sweetness. 

When using this swap, mix 1/4 teaspoon paprika and 1/4 teaspoon turmeric to replace 1/4 teaspoon saffron in your recipe. 

Turmeric Powder

2. Turmeric

If you only have turmeric in your pantry, it works in a pinch. The color adds a pop of color and earthy notes to your dish. 

The only downside of using turmeric is it lacks the floral sweetness of saffron, and it’s a much milder spice. 

However, you can use turmeric in a 1:1 ratio when replacing saffron. Easy peasy!

Sweet Paprika

3. Sweet Paprika 

Did you know that paprika is just ground red peppers? Regular paprika is sweet and spicy, but sweet paprika is, well, sweeter.

Sweet paprika is a great substitute for saffron because it delivers a kiss of sweetness with savory undertones. Plus, it’s so affordable!

The only downside is the color is a deep red, so your dish won’t be as bright and colorful. 

Just be sure that you buy sweet paprika. Other types can make your dish overly spicy. 

Use 1/2 teaspoon of sweet paprika for every 1 teaspoon of saffron in your recipe. 


4. Cardamom

Cardamom is a unique spice, and the flavors are very different from saffron. 

However, it has sweet and savory notes similar to saffron with a piney kick. 

While saffron is sweet, cardamon is more savory and earthy. A little goes a long way!

Plus, it has a subtle yellow color to add a pop of flair to cooked dishes. It’s not the same bright orange shade, but it’s close. 

You can use cardamon in a 1:1 swap for saffron. It can quickly overpower your dish, so add a little and taste as you go. 

Curry Powder

5. Curry Powder 

If you’re a big fan of making Indian food at home, you likely have curry powder in your pantry. 

It’s a very strong spice and lacks that delicate touch of saffron. Yellow or red curry powder are both good substitutions.

However, it has sweet and floral notes similar to saffron and adds a pop of color to your dish. 

Be careful when using curry powder as a swap! It has a very bold flavor and can quickly overpower a recipe. 

There’s no exact swap for curry powder. Add a dash at a time, and taste as you go. 

Marigold Flowers or Spice 

6. Marigold Flowers or Spice 

Marigolds are more common than the saffron crocus and, therefore, more affordable. 

Marigold spice is hard to find at the supermarket, but it’s easy to track down online. 

It has a stark citrus and peppery flavor that’s very unique and adds a colorful flair to dishes. 

If you can’t find marigold spice, you can make your own at home if you have flowering marigolds!

Dry out the petals by placing them in the sun. That’s it! 

And the best part? You can use marigolds as a 1:1 swap for saffron. 

Dried Safflower on Wooden Spoon

7. Safflower

Safflower sounds like saffron, so it’s a good swap, right? While the two are unrelated, safflower has sweet, earthy notes like saffron. 

The sweetness of safflower is more similar to chocolate than honey, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing!

Plus, the bright yellow color of safflower adds wonderful coloring to your dish. 

Use safflower spice in a 1:1 ratio to saffron. 


8. Annatto

Never heard of Annatto before? Let me introduce you. Annatto is a seed that comes from the achiote tree. It has a lovely smoky flavor that captures the earthiness of saffron. 

While the flavors aren’t identical, they are rich and earthy. Plus, they color your dish a pale shade of yellow. 

Use Annatto as a 1:1 swap. However, the flavors are very mild, so you may need to add a little more. 


9. Cumin

If you make Mexican food at home, you probably have cumin in your spice collection. It adds a wonderful yellow shade to dishes and delivers earthy notes. 

The downside to cumin is it’s quite bitter. But that’s an easy enough fix. Just add a pinch of sugar!

Use 2/3 teaspoons of cumin with a pinch of sugar to replace 1 teaspoon of saffron. 


10. Calendula

Calendula flowers are very similar to marigold flowers. Dried petals deliver bright yellow coloring to your dishes, and the flavors are bold. 

The petals of this flower are peppery and earthy, with floral notes similar to saffron. The only negative is these flowers don’t deliver the same sweetness.

You can use Calendula as a 1:1 swap to saffron. 

10 Best Saffron Substitutes for Cooking

Paprika, turmeric, curry powder, and cardamom are all cheaper substitutes for saffron. Learn how to use them as alternatives in your recipes.


  • Turmeric + Paprika

  • Turmeric

  • Sweet Paprika

  • Cardamon

  • Curry Powder

  • Marigold Flowers or Spice

  • Safflower

  • Annatto

  • Cumin

  • Calendula


  • Select your favorite saffron substitute.
  • Organize all the required ingredients.
  • Prep a delicious recipe in 30 minutes or less!
Saffron Substitutes

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author avatar
Kim - InsanelyGood
Hey there! I'm Kim. I love running, cooking, and curling up with a good book! I share recipes for people who LOVE good food, but want to keep things simple :)

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