How to substitute saffron

Saffron gives pastries and especially many savoury or sweet meat, fish and rice dishes such as paella a special aroma, the characteristic yellow colour and a spicy fragrance.


Unfortunately, the flower spice is very expensive and not available everywhere. The red, small saffron threads can only be harvested by hand during the two-month flowering period of the saffron crocus.

What is saffron actually?

Saffron is obtained from the dried stigmas of crocus flowers. The crocuses used for saffron production come mainly from Iran, Spain, India, Greece and Morocco.

Regions where saffron is to be grown must meet certain climatic conditions. This means dry summers and humid autumns, only then is a successful harvest guaranteed.

Saffron flowers

Replacing saffron in the kitchen

Unfortunately, there is no spice that can completely replace the slightly pungent, bitter-aromatic taste of saffron.

When baking, you can use the grated lemon peel instead of the luxury spice, which provides a fresh and slightly bitter note in cakes, for example. However, this does not give the pastry its beautiful orange-yellow colour.

For a visual substitute, there are several alternatives, which we list below:

Turmeric, the “Indian saffron”.

Turmeric, also known as turmeric, is sometimes called Indian saffron. It belongs to the ginger genus and is used both in powder form and freshly grated from the turmeric.


The spice is also used as a yellow colouring for products in the food industry. In the corresponding products, it is labelled E 100 on the packaging. However, the spicy, slightly bitter-hot taste of turmeric cannot be compared to saffron.

To colour a dish orange-yellow, you should use less turmeric than indicated in the recipe. In addition, you can mix a touch of paprika powder into the Indian spice.

Annatto, the “poor man’s saffron

Another visual substitute for saffron is the spice annatto, which also colours dishes reddish-yellow and is added as a natural colouring to many foods such as desserts or pastries. Cheddar, for example, gets its reddish-yellow colour from annatto.

It is declared as E 160 b on the ingredient lists of food products.


The spice is extracted from the seeds of the South American achiote tree and is also used as a body colour and textile dye. Carotenoids in the seed coating provide the strong colour.

Visually, ground annatto, which has a peppery-mild taste, a nutmeg-like aroma and a flowery-nutty scent, most closely resembles paprika powder. In order for the natural colouring to be released, the hard seeds must be boiled in water for sixty minutes until soft before grinding.

Annatto is often used in the cuisines of Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, South America or even Portugal and – generously dosed – enhances the flavour of meat and fish dishes or even sweet potatoes.

Safflower, the “false saffron

Safflower, also known as safflower, oil thistle or false saffron, looks strikingly similar to the deep red saffron threads. This is why it is often offered to tourists at bazaars as real saffron at completely overpriced prices.

In contrast to the very intense saffron, however, safflower is almost tasteless. However, it is perfect as a visual substitute for saffron in cooking and baking.


The food colouring Colorante is considered an inexpensive optical substitute for saffron, especially in Spain, for example to give the Spanish national dish paella its characteristic golden yellow colour. In Germany, you can buy Colorante very cheaply in online shops. One gram of the food colouring is enough for one kilo of food.

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