5 Substitutes for Saffron Rice

Saffron rice is usually made from a combination of white rice, saffron, and vegetable bouillon. With the ingredient of saffron, it is safe to say that this dish can be pretty expensive. The average price for a package of saffron rice is anywhere from $6-$8. That may not seem like a lot, but many kinds of rice can be bought for just a dollar.

Trying to make your own saffron rice will be even more expensive. That will require you to have to buy your own saffron, which is a very pricy spice. With not everyone being able to obtain saffron from its price or lack of availability in the store, not everyone will be able to make the dish with the traditional ingredients. 

This may leave people wondering if there are substitutes from saffron rice. Thankfully, there is a way to substitute for the expensive ingredient of saffron. The best substitute is to mix turmeric and curry. 

Substitutes for Saffron Rice

You won’t be able to buy a premade version of a saffron rice substitute, but you can easily make your own. Since two of the three main ingredients of saffron rice include white rice and vegetable bouillon, which are both pretty cheap, there is only one ingredient to change. 

1. Turmeric and Curry

The best substitute for saffron rice is to combine turmeric and curry. Not only will these two bright orange-yellow spices give you a similar look to saffron, but they will also give similar tastes. 

Curry and turmeric together give an earthy taste with a bit of peppery spice. It is the most similar to the earthy and dark taste of saffron.

2. Sweet Paprika and Cumin

Another good spice combination to substitute for saffron is sweet paprika and cumin. Again, these bright spices will give a similar color to saffron along with having an earthy and slightly spicy taste. The sweet paprika can make the overall taste of the dish brighter.

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3. Safflower

Safflower is great for imitating the look of saffron threads. It has that intense orange-yellow color. Safflower is one of the best substitutes for capturing the saffron thread look. Though, with its more floral taste, it’s not as good as other substitutes for imitating the taste of saffron.

Safflower is great for baking recipes that call for saffron threads. 

4. Cardamom

Cardamon can more easily be found in stores than some other spices as it is more popular in European cuisines. It is commonly used as a saffron substitute, even though it has a more lemony flavor. It’s good for recipes that require a more delicate taste such as sauces or desserts. 

5. Annatto

Annatto can also be a good substitute for saffron threads. It has the ability to give dishes a bright orange-red color while having a similar taste. Though, annatto is more floral, like how safflower is. The color is great to add to rice, like saffron rice. 

With each different substitute, it is important to find the best combination that will match the color and taste of the saffron threads usually in saffron rice. If it can be easily ground up into a powder or can be drawn out in the water, it can make a good substitute. Earthy and bright-colored spices are the best to replace saffron-threads. 

What Does Saffron Threads Taste Like?

In order to find what the best substitute for a kind of spice is, you need to know what that spice even tastes like. 

Saffron has a very earthy and grassy taste. There is a hint of floral in saffron, making it a bit sweet like flowers or honey. This spice is the perfect balance of savory and sweet, making it a very special spice. 

Some saffron has a stronger taste than others. You can find out how flavorful your saffron will be based on the color of the threads. The darker red they are, the more flavor and aroma they will have. 

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This color will also impact how bright your dish will be. The color of saffron will make your dish an orange color. That is why spices that are also bright are good substitutes as they will give a similar look. Turmeric, known for being bright orange, is a good example of the bright color saffron should have. 

Like their taste, saffron has a floral and earthy aroma. This comes out often when saffron threads are used in dishes. 

The Best Substitute for Saffron in Paella

Paella is the traditional name for Saffron Rice. It is a traditional Spanish dish from Valencia. Along with saffron, white rice, and vegetable bouillon, paella usually has many other ingredients added to the dish. 

Chicken, a variety of vegetables, and other spices can make this traditional dish more complex and delicious. 

If you don’t have saffron, as it is the most expensive spice currently, the best substitute is a combination of turmeric and curry. For every teaspoon of saffron threads that you would use, add half that amount in turmeric and the other half in curry. 

Since curry will add spice, add more or less depending on how spicy you want your dish to be. In that case, also add more or less turmeric to make sure you have the same vibrancy and earthy flavor as saffron threads would normally give. 

The Price of Saffron Threads

As said earlier, saffron is the most expensive spice in the world currently. Just a gram of saffron is around $7 and a kilogram is over a thousand dollars. The prices are very high which is why so many people need to use substitutes to make dishes that call from saffron threads. 

One of the main reasons why saffron is so expensive is that it takes so many saffron plants to make the spice. The saffron flowers aren’t used for the spice that is commonly known, instead, they use the threads. 75,000 saffron flowers are used to make one pound of spice.

There’s also the factor that saffron harvesting is done manually. This means very high labor costs and this is a very time-consuming process. A ton of care is gone into harvesting and turning these flowers into their spice form, so the price is going to be very high. 

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In fact, saffron is one of the most labor-intensive crops in the world. With how many flowers need to be harvested, workers have to put in so much time into getting the proper amount of flowers. Only so many flowers can be grown, which means only so much spice can be made.

This all causes a lower supply but a high demand that comes with highly revered crops. 

Final Thoughts

In saffron rice or better known as paella, the best substitute for saffron is a combination of turmeric and curry. Of course, you can just use one or the other to substitute saffron, and there’s a whole list of other spices and plants that can replicate the saffron thread’s look and taste. 

Each substitute has its pros and cons along with its own availability. Turmeric, curry, and cumin are the easiest substitute spices to find in the store along with being some of the cheaper substitutes. 

With saffron being so expensive at around $7 per gram, not many people will be able to have it stocked up in their spice cabinet. This makes having a variety of substitutes important as anyone can find one that will work the best for them. 

No matter what substitute you end up using, you are sure to end up with a tasty paella dish that the whole family/group/or just yourself will enjoy. 

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