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Saffron Threads Alternatives: Top 5 Picks for Flavorful Dishes

Have you ever gone to make a recipe that calls for saffron threads, only to realize that you don’t have any?

Or maybe you don’t want to use saffron because of the high cost. If so, you’re in luck.

There are several different substitutes that can be used in place of saffron threads.

In this article, we’ll share with you the five best substitutes for saffron threads.

What are Saffron Threads?

Saffron is a spice with a long history and a distinctive flavor.

It is made from the stigmas of the saffron crocus, a purple flower that blooms for only a few weeks each year.

For centuries, saffron has been used in cooking, medicine, and even dyes.

The threads have a slightly bitter taste and can be used to flavor rice, soup, or other dishes.

They can also be steeped in water to make a yellow-colored tea.

When used in cooking, saffron should be added sparingly, as its flavor can be overwhelming.

Indian cuisine is often used in rice dishes or curries.

Saffron is also a popular ingredient in Spanish paella.

While it is one of the most expensive spices by weight, a little saffron goes a long way.

Just a few threads can add flavor and color to any dish.

The 5 Best Substitutes for Saffron Threads

If you’re looking to add flavor and color to your dish without using saffron threads, there are a few different options you can choose from.

Here are the five best substitutes for saffron threads:

1 – Safflower

Safflower is a plant in the daisy family.

The petals of the flower are used to make a yellow-orange dye, and the oil from the seeds is used in cooking and cosmetics.

Safflower has a light, nutty flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

It can be used as a substitute for saffron threads in cooking.

To substitute saffron for safflower, use a one-quarter teaspoon of ground safflower for every teaspoon of saffron called for in the recipe.

Safflower can also be used to make a yellow-orange dye for fabric or cosmetics.

To make the dye, steep one tablespoon of ground safflower in one cup of boiling water for 30 minutes.

Strain the mixture and add it to the desired recipe.

2 – Turmeric

Turmeric is a versatile and flavorful spice that can add depth and richness to any dish.

It has a distinct, earthy flavor that is slightly bitter and peppery.

Turmeric can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, and it pairs especially well with curry powders and cumin.

The spice is also known for its vibrant yellow color, which can add a beautiful pop of color to any dish.

When substituting turmeric for saffron threads, it is important to keep the ratio of turmeric to other spices in mind.

For every 1 teaspoon of saffron threads, use 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric.

This will help to ensure that the final dish has the desired flavor profile.

Additionally, it is important to cook the turmeric with other ingredients before adding liquid, as this will help to release the spice’s flavor.

With these tips in mind, you can experiment with using turmeric in your favorite recipes.

3 – Sweet Paprika

Sweet paprika is a type of chili pepper that is typically used as a spice or seasoning.

It has a milder flavor than other chili peppers, and its color can range from deep red to orange-red.

Sweet paprika is often used to add color and flavor to dishes, and it can be used as a substitute for saffron threads.

The taste of sweet paprika is somewhat similar to that of bell peppers, with a slightly sweet and smoky flavor.

When used as a seasoning, it can add mild heat to dishes.

Sweet paprika is also commonly used in Hungary and other Central European countries, where it is known as “paprika”.

In addition to being used as a spice, sweet paprika can also be used to make a type of Hungarian soup known as “lecsó”.

4 – Curcumin

Spices are an essential part of many cuisines around the world.

They can add flavor and depth to a dish or provide a unique twist on a classic recipe.

One spice that is becoming increasingly popular is curcumin.

Curcumin is extracted from the turmeric plant and has a bright yellow color and slightly bitter taste.

It is often used as a substitute for saffron, as it provides similar flavor profiles without a high price tag.

Curcumin can be added to both sweet and savory dishes and can be used in whole-grain forms or as a powder.

When substituting curcumin for saffron, it is important to use a lower quantity, as curcumin is more potent than its counterpart.

With its versatility and bold flavor, curcumin is an excellent addition to any spice cabinet.

5 – Cardamom

Cardamom is a spice that originates from India.

It has a strong, unique flavor that is both spicy and sweet.

Cardamom pods can be used whole or ground.

When used whole, they are typically removed before eating.

Ground cardamom is often used in baking and Indian cooking.

Cardamom has a similar texture to saffron threads, but it is much more pungent.

It can be used as a substitute for saffron, though it will not produce the same flavor profile.

To substitute cardamom for saffron, use 1/3 as much cardamom as you would saffron.

This will ensure that your dish has the right balance of flavors.


In conclusion, saffron is a unique spice with a multitude of uses.

Though it is considered a luxurious ingredient, there are several substitutes that can be used in its place.

Sweet paprika, curcumin, and cardamom are all excellent substitutes for saffron threads.

When substituting one of these spices for saffron, it is important to use a lower quantity, as they are more potent than saffron.

With its versatility and bold flavor, curcumin is an excellent addition to any spice cabinet.

The 5 Best Substitutes for Saffron Threads

Recipe by Andrew Gray Course: Substitutes


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Cooking time


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  • Safflower

  • Turmeric

  • Sweet Paprika

  • Curcumin

  • Cardamom


  • Pick your favorite substitute from the list above.
  • Follow cooking directions for your selected substitute with the proper ratio of ingredients.

Recipe Video

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