Here's What You Can Substitute For Saffron

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Saffron, which Bon Appetit calls "the world's most legendary spice," is also one of the world's most expensive ones. On Amazon's Prime Pantry, McCormick is selling 0.06 ounces of saffron for $16.47, which comes out to $274.50 for a full ounce of the stuff. Amazon's description claims that saffron is "essential for paella, risotto, bouillabaisse, tagines, and Scandinavian breads," which is all well and good, but what if you just can't afford it? Or, even if you're willing to splurge, what if you happen to be in an area not serviced by Amazon's same-day service, and your local grocery store doesn't keep this pricey spice in stock?

Some foodies claim there's no substitute for what Bon Appetit calls saffron's "slightly sweet, luxurious taste." Other, more pragmatic, chefs, however, admit that they can and do substitute other ingredients in recipes calling for what Luxury Insider acknowledges to be the world's costliest foodstuff. While turmeric is mentioned most often, other substitutes may include safflower, annatto, cardamom, and even one home chef's special blend of common kitchen ingredients.

The different saffron substitutes

According to Raw Spice Bar, turmeric imparts a similar color to saffron, which may be why it's one of the more commonly-suggested substitutes, but the flavor is actually quite different. Instead, the spice vendor suggest using safflower, revealing that it has the nickname of Mexican saffron and the ability to provide a similar coloring along with a "pleasant, distinctive flavor." Safflower is substituted for saffron on a one-to-one basis, whereas The Kitchn notes that smaller amounts of turmeric would be used in place of saffron.

The Kitchn doesn't really endorse the idea of making any substitutions for saffron, but a request for suggestions elicited several responses. One reader revealed that friends who ate her lussekatter (a Scandinavian specialty bread baked for St. Lucia Day) swore up and down that the buns contained saffron, when they were really tasting cardamom. Another suggested annatto seeds for their "beautiful color very similar to saffron," describing the seeds' taste as "a bit nutty, very pleasant," and claiming they're actually preferable to saffron in some Puerto Rican dishes. One reader even provided her own recipe for a DIY saffron substitute: "1/2 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1/4 tablespoon of cumin, 1/4 tablespoon of chicken stock powder, and about a teaspoon of tumeric [sic], " saying it "tastes fairly similar to saffron and has a nice color!" 

While no spice is ever going to be an exact match for another, in the case of anything costing over $4,000 per pound, substitution is definitely fair game.