Saffron Alternatives

Spoon filled with saffron image by Han van Vonno from

Saffron is the most expensive spice on Earth, so it is no surprise that sometimes there is a need to look for an alternative. Although there is nothing that tastes quite like it, there are several options when it comes to replacing the vibrant colour that it imparts on a dish.


The bright yellow colour of turmeric is quite reminiscent of saffron, but the flavour is distinctly different. Using this in place of saffron will change the complexion of any meal and if too much is used the strong flavour could overpower the rest of the dish. Turmeric should not be used if saffron was meant as a subtle addition, but can be used where other strong flavours are present.


Azafran is sometimes called the American saffron. It is the stamen of the safflower plant and has a similar look and taste, although much more needs to be used to obtain a food flavouring. This spice is used mostly to impart colouring without affecting the flavour of a dish. Hispanic and Asian markets often carry this spice.


Annatto seeds are red in colour and when cooked in oil leave the oil a bright yellow colour. In some parts of the world, annatto is used as a fabric dye, due to the brilliance of the hue. The seeds themselves are rarely eaten; meats and vegetables are generally fried in annatto oil. Although this is not as easily attainable as turmeric or azafran it will do the trick if it is available.


Taste-wise cardamom is the closest spice to saffron but it lacks the yellow colour that saffron adds to a dish. Adding a few drops of yellow food colouring to a dish cooked with cardamom will give a pleasant faux-saffron look and taste. The major downfall here is that cardamom is often just as cost prohibitive as saffron.