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Substitute the petals of pot marigolds for expensive saffron. They have a similar pungent flavor and the same yellow color. Let the flower heads air-dry or dry them in a microwave, then grind them into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle. Use in pastries, soups, risottos, etc., adding just a pinch more than you would use of saffron.
Source: An old cookbook.
By Ron from Cortez, CO
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Has anyone found a decent substitute for saffron threads? They are quite expensive. When I have splurged and purchased this item, I've been disappointed because it's been on the shelf too long. A lot of recipes indicate that it's possible to substitute with turmeric. I find that turmeric gives an off flavor that is a bit too intense for delicately flavored recipes.
Holly from Richardson, TX
This web gives a whole list of substitutes:
By joan pecsek
I found a substitute in a Mexican grocery called "Mexican Saffron". It's very inexpensive and we love it. I had to run it through my spice grinder to get it to a powder or you could use a food processor or mortar and pestle. Good luck (10/11/2007)
Trader Joe's has a really pretty little green bottle with a very good amount of saffron in it for a really cheap price! My mom is a chef and gets some each time she is near a Trader Joe's (don't have in the mountains in AZ where she lives). (10/11/2007)
I had a friend from Puerto Rico who used annatto for a beautiful golden color to her dishes, especially those with rice. Also, have you tried growing your own saffron? It just comes from the saffron crocus. My grandfather used to grow them, and I always helped pick it from the flowers when I was younger. The flower bulbs pay for themselves during harvest, especially with the price of saffron, and they bloom for years. Just check specialty bulb companies. If I'm thinking correctly, there is also another flower whose stamens you can pick that mimics saffron. If you use a lot, it might be worth checking out. (10/12/2007)
I found this article about saffron and it talks about how Mexican Saffron won't give you the same flavor. You might be disappointed in the flavor because you are accidentally getting this "fake" saffron instead and thinking that it is stale because it isn't really the real thing.
I love to cook and have really wanted to buy some real saffron myself but the price always prevents me. It sounds like you really need to make sure that you are getting fresh, high quality saffron. There was an article in Cooking Light last month (September 2007) about saffron, I bet you could find it online too. It says they should last up to two years in a cool dark place and should cost about $12 for two teaspoons (OUCH!)
I might try going to an Indian food store directly or buying it at a gourmet cookware or grocery store, like Whole Foods or Sur La Table or maybe even online to ensure quality. Good luck and let us know what happens.
I am an Iranian. We use saffron in so many of our foods. We also use turmeric a lot and turmeric is no substitute for saffron. Although I am sure you can find a substitute to get the color of saffron, but I cannot imagine anything that would replace the flavor. One thing we do to stretch the saffron is to make sure it is very well powdered. I use my coffee grinder for this. I add one cube sugar and I let the coffee grinder run for a good amount of time. One cube sugar will not have any affect on the taste. I also rinse any spoons or anything else that comes in contact with saffron and use the rinsing. good luck (10/12/2007)
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By Saffron man