If you have been looking for new and exciting ways to spice up your kitchen and the meals that you make inside it, you might want to think about using saffron. But be warned, it’s not always easy to come by, and substituting it can be very difficult!

saffron on wooden spoon
photo credit hemro/shutterstock
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For years now, chefs who are both experienced and also new to the world of cooking have relied on saffron in order to add flavor and exotic appeal to their dishes. 

Now more than ever before, people are using saffron for a number of yummy meals, but that means that it can be harder to come by. Saffron supplies might be limited and that means that you may need to rely on something else to substitute and create the delicious flavor and texture of saffron. 

Because saffron is so special and one-of-a-kind, it’s very hard to truly replicate its taste perfectly. But there are certain ingredients that you can use if you wish to provide your dish with the same look as saffron. 

Here is what you need to know about saffron, what it brings to your kitchen, and how you can find the right substitutes for it. 

What Is Saffron Used For?

Saffron is a key component that is used in a bunch of cuisines all over the world. It is especially used to add a certain type of flavor and aroma, as well as a distinctive golden-yellow color to dishes. That last feature, its color, is one of the biggest reasons why saffron is so popular. And it’s also one of the things that people want the most in their dishes. In fact, most people look for saffron substitutes so they can replicate its special look. 

Saffron is particularly popular in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Indian, and Spanish cuisines. In those regions, saffron is commonly used in dishes such as paella, risotto Milanese, biryani, bouillabaisse, and various sweets and desserts. As you can see, it is used in a number of different dishes, from high-end dinner meals to yummy desserts. 

Saffron is a special ingredient that is relied upon for its ability to give anything a rich, golden-yellow color to all types of foods and beverages. And because of that great, vibrant color, it is typically used as a natural food coloring in dishes ranging from rice and stews to bread and cakes.


But it’s not just food that saffron is used for! Over the years, saffron has been used by certain cultures for its potential medicinal properties too. Many people believe that saffron is a great antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and mood-enhancing medicine. Because of that, it has been used in conventional medicine for handling conditions such as depression, menstrual discomfort, and also as an aphrodisiac by some people too.

Cosmetics & Fabrics

Saffron’s vibrant color makes it a valuable ingredient in cosmetics too, particularly in skincare products. It’s used in things like face masks, creams, and lotions for its purported antioxidant and skin-brightening properties. Additionally, its aroma makes it a sought-after element in perfumery.

Saffron has been historically used as a natural dye for fabrics because of its remarkable color. 


Saffron is also sometimes used in certain religious ceremonies, as well as rituals, traditional customs, and other events, in various cultures due to its representation of wealth, purity, or spirituality.

With all of those helpful components and its use in so many dishes and at so many events, you can see why so many people are using saffron these days. But its popularity has also led to its scarcity, which means it is often very hard to come by. 

Because of its difficult harvesting process and the fact that it takes a large number of particular flowers to yield even just a very small amount of saffron, it is now actually one of the most expensive spices in the world by weight. Its distinct taste, its aroma, and its color have made it a prized and highly-sought ingredient in different aspects of life.

That means that you may need to get clever when you are looking to pack saffron into your meals at home. But the good news is that people have figured out a long list of wonderful substitutes that will work. 

What Are The Best Substitutes For Saffron?

Because saffron is such a unique and highly prized spice due to its distinct flavor, aroma, and vibrant color, it is almost always in high demand. This has led to many people having to rely on substitutes instead of the real things. Finding a perfect substitute for saffron can be difficult because of its unique attributes and especially that special taste, but there are some alternatives that can provide a similar color or flavor to dishes.


Perhaps the most popular saffron substitute on the market today is turmeric, which is commonly sold at just about every grocery store in your area. But, its popularity isn’t because of the taste. 

Known for its vibrant yellow color, turmeric will easily mimic saffron’s bright color in most dishes. It is important to remember that it doesn’t have the same flavor profile as saffron, so you won’t get a dish that tastes the exact same if you use it as a substitute. But turmeric’s ability to copy saffron’s color is the reason why so many people use it. Use a small amount of turmeric to add color, but be cautious as it can be overpowering and your dinner guests will definitely notice it. A little goes a long way. 


Sometimes referred to as “false saffron,” safflower provides a similar color to saffron but lacks its distinctive flavor. Like turmeric, it’s primarily used as a food coloring agent.

Safflower has long been confused with saffron, even though its name is very similar. But they are entirely different plants. Still, even though they are fundamentally different in many ways, safflower can be a good substitute, as long as you’re just looking for saffron’s color and not its taste. 


Annatto seeds or powder offer a mild flavor and a vibrant reddish-orange color. While it doesn’t taste like saffron, it can add a similar hue to certain dishes. However, even though it doesn’t have the same taste as saffron, it does come with its very own flavor that is irresistible to many. 

Annatto seeds can be used whole without any change or they can be ground down into powder. For years, they have been used for certain soups, stews, rice, sauces, meats, and more. 

Some people use annatto because the seeds contain certain antioxidants and have allegedly had a lot of health benefits, like anti-inflammatory properties and the promotion of heart health. When it comes to their health benefits, it’s important to know that none have been confirmed. 

Marigold Petals

Marigold petals can provide a mild, saffron-like color to foods. Some people say that they don’t replicate saffron’s strong flavor, while others claim that the difference between marigold petals and saffron are minimal. Regardless, these petals can be used in dishes, especially those where the color is more important than the taste. 

For many years, marigold petals have been used to spruce up all types of food, like soups, salads, and especially desserts. They are also often used in herbal teas, too. 

And, like saffron, marigold petals are also used as a coloring agent, because they come with a golden-yellow and orange hue. They are added to a number of foods and drinks.

While marigold petals can be a great substitute to really nail the look of saffron, they are often harder to find than other items on our list. 


Paprika is a spice that is derived from dried and sweet Capsicum peppers. It comes in a massive amount of varieties, such as mild to sweet, spicy, and hot, depending on the pepper that is used. It is known for its rich red color and the flavor that it brings to dishes. It is also known as a good substitute for saffron. 

Patrika is quite versatile, which means that it can be employed by chefs for a number of meals. Stews, sauces, marinades, and rubs for vegetables, rice, meats, and more, all use paprika often. 

Paprika can definitely mimic the look of saffron, but it should be known that it also comes with some beneficial nutritional value. It is packed full of vitamins, such as Vitamin C, and other antioxidants. 

Of all the items on our list, paprika is probably the most common, which means that you will easily be able to find it at your local store. In fact, you might have some paprika in your kitchen right now, as it is one of the most popular spice shakers around. 

These alternatives will definitely offer you similar color tones but it is important to remember that none of them can completely replicate the exact taste of saffron. That is because saffron’s flavor is unique and complex and is very hard to reproduce perfectly. Many chefs choose to use a smaller amount of saffron or omit it altogether rather than using a substitute that might significantly alter the dish’s flavor profile.

Ready to figure out the best ways to use saffron or one of its substitutes? Why not use some of our special Mediterranean recipes

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Kate founded DrizzleMeSkinny in 2014. Since then she has shared nearly 1000 weight watchers friendly recipes with DrizzleMeSkinny's over 500,000 social media followers.

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