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Substitute for Turmeric


Are you a big fan of turmeric spice? It happens to the best of us; we choose a spice we love and include it in everything we cook. Check out the list below for a substitute for turmeric on the days you run out or can’t find this spice.

measuring spoon filled with bright orange spice and glass jar filled with spice and labeled turmeric

What is turmeric?

If you’re not familiar with turmeric, you may recognize it as a golden or yellowish-brown spice often used in health foods or juices. This spice has been used for hundreds of years for taste and health benefits.

It originated in India and comes from the plant Curcuma Longa. You might find it surprising that this spice comes from the plant’s root, as it is in the ginger family. This is a multi-purpose spice used for dying fabric, foods like curry, and even wedding/religious traditions in Hindu culture.

Best Substitute For Turmeric

1. Fresh Turmeric

If you immensely enjoy the flavor of dried turmeric, it’s worthwhile to try it fresh. You’ll be able to taste it more strongly in dishes. Purchasing fresh turmeric from the store opens the possibilities of what you can cook and create with it.

In its fresh form, you can use it in a few different ways. Chop it/mince it into small pieces and include it in sauces, marinades, soups, and even in egg dishes. If you decide to juice the turmeric, you can utilize it in salad dressings or drink it as a juice.

It is said to be best absorbed when black pepper is combined with turmeric. It’s recommended to peel fresh turmeric before both slicing and juicing it to avoid the tasteless peel. Though, the skin can be consumed once appropriately washed.

To substitute for dried turmeric, use one tablespoon of the fresh version for every teaspoon of the powder.

Cooking Tip: Make sure to use gloves and a dark cooking apron when dealing with fresh turmeric. It can stain hands, cutting boards, and clothes very easily. If you don’t, you might be left with yellow fingers for a few days.

2. Saffron

Saffron is a beautiful spice that is red and considered very rare. It is a good turmeric substitute as it provides a similar color to dishes. The flavor will vary, though, as it has a sweet and flowery taste. Here’s the catch – it’s pretty expensive. You can find an ounce of saffron for about $16, though you can get away with using a small amount, so it should last a while.

Because saffron is quite costly, you may occasionally run into an imitation instead of actual saffron. To check if it’s good quality, the saffron threads shouldn’t have a bitter taste. You can also tell by the appearance; it should be dark red with orange ends.

It is commonly used for dishes like paella, other rice dishes, and even delicate desserts. Take ten strands, grind them, and soak them in water before adding them to any dish. This will replace ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder.

Cooking Tip: Don’t cook saffron; it loses its taste very quickly. Instead, add it in at the very end of your recipes.

3. Safflower

Safflower is another excellent alternative to turmeric you’re not interested in paying the high cost of saffron. It provides a similar color as saffron, but it is lighter. It also has a more delicate taste. In regards to flavor, it still provides sweetness. However, instead of tasting like flowers, it has a more similar taste to the chocolate. Since the flavor is more subtle, it will take more safflower to add the same amount of flavor to a dish.

This spice works well for salads, soups, and stews. Use one teaspoon for every teaspoon of turmeric. If you want your dish less sweet, you can start with ¾ teaspoon and adjust to your liking.

Cooking Tip: Prepare the same way you would saffron – soak it first before adding it into a dish. Ensure you use the correct amount to provide a similar color and flavor.

4. Ginger

Since the ginger root is so similar appearance-wise to fresh turmeric, it’s no wonder that this is considered a great replacement. You won’t get the pretty color provided by the turmeric, though, as ginger has a much lighter beige tint to it. The flavor is not an exact match, though they are in the same plant family, so it will be similar.

Ginger has a more intense and spicier flavor, so you might want to use less in your dishes than turmeric. It can be used both in its powder form and as a fresh spice instead of turmeric. Ginger is great to season meat, in sauces, or even in juices (ginger root). Use ½ teaspoon of ginger powder for each teaspoon of turmeric powder.

Cooking Tip: Ensure you chop fresh ginger finely before including it in recipes. It will be unpleasant and quite spicy if you bite into a large piece of it during mealtime.

5. Annatto

When searching for a turmeric alternative, annatto seeds and annatto powder are often brought up. This is mainly due to its similar color. It’s also used as a multi-purpose spice. In Latin countries where it is grown, you’ll often see it used as a dye for clothes and makeup. When used for cooking, it provides a beautiful yellow color.

It does have some similar flavor notes like turmeric, including pepperiness and earthiness. The flavor is very light, so it’s mostly to be used for coloring. Annatto works best for dishes you want to add colors, such as rice and sauces. Use it in a 1:1 ratio as a replacement for turmeric.

Cooking Tip: This spice is meant to be included at the start of the cooking process, unlike saffron or safflower. Add it into oil at the start of your recipe.

6. Garam Masala

Garam masala is a mixture of spices commonly used in Indian dishes. It typically includes cloves, cumin powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, peppercorns, cardamom, and bay leaves. Since turmeric is used often in Indian dishes, it makes sense that garam masala would be a good option as a substitution. Because of the black peppercorns, this spice blend does have more heat than turmeric, so it’s best to use a smaller amount in recipes. It also has a sweet flavor.

This spice works well with curries and as a seasoning for lentils. Use ½ teaspoon of garam masala for each teaspoon of turmeric.

Cooking Tip: If you can’t find garam masala at the store, it’s easy to make your own at home. Take the above ingredients, ensure they are all ground into powders, and combine them. You can adjust to your preferences, though it’s safe to say add about 1 teaspoon of each spice into the mixture. Cloves and nutmeg should be included in smaller amounts (1/2 teaspoon each).

7. Curry Powder

Curry is a mixture of spices most used in Indian cooking. One of the main ingredients that add golden yellow color to this spice mix is turmeric. Using this spice in the mixture means you’ll get a similar color and the flavor notes that turmeric usually provides.

Other spices included in curry are cumin and fenugreek. There is no heat in a standard curry mix, and it works well with most savory dishes. As there are other seasonings included in this mix, it will not be a perfect replacement in all recipes.

You’ll need to ensure that the additional flavors work well in your intended dish before using curry powder as a swap. Start with ½ tablespoon of curry powder to replace every tablespoon of turmeric. Adjust as needed by slowly adding more until your preferred taste is reached.

Cooking Tip: Curry is best used in dishes that have sauces or a liquid base. Do not use this swap for drinks (like a turmeric latte). The other spices are too strong and do not bode well in sweet drinks.

8. Paprika

Paprika can work as a replacement due to the peppery taste and slight earthiness it offers. Unlike turmeric, paprika provides a sweeter taste. There will be a flavor difference when used in recipes.

There are multiple varieties of paprika, ranging from smoky to hot and sweet paprika. Depending on the recipe you intend to recreate, you can adjust which paprika version you use to complement other flavors better. They all contain a peppery, earthy, sweet flavor. However, smoky paprika adds a smokiness to meals, and hot paprika provides spiciness.

The paprika color varies from a red to a darker reddish-brown, so it will not offer the same golden yellow as turmeric does.
Start with ½ tablespoon of paprika of choice, then add more if needed. This will allow you to control the sweetness of the dish.

Cooking Tip: Use sweet paprika as the closest flavor match. While smoked paprika and hot paprika are tasty, these varieties include additional flavors that alter the recipe’s taste.

9. Cumin

Since cumin and turmeric are ingredients often used in curry powder, it is clear that cumin complements other flavors/spices normally incorporated with turmeric-based recipes. Cumin provides an earthy taste like turmeric. However, you will find it to have a much stronger taste.

It also provides a similar bitter taste to turmeric. Don’t use too much cumin as a replacement, or it can create an unpleasant taste in your recipe. This spice is most often used in Indian and Mexican recipes. As noted, it’s one of the main ingredients in curries. In Mexican food, it’s often used to season taco meat. Use cumin in sauces and seasonings for meat (especially beef and pork).

Use ½ tablespoon of cumin for every tablespoon of turmeric in recipes. If you prefer a more robust cumin flavor, you can increase it to ¾ tablespoon. Make sure to test the taste first before introducing more of this seasoning into the dish.

Cooking Tip: When using cumin, it’s best to use a smaller quantity initially. This way, you can adjust the taste and ensure the flavor does not overpower other ingredients.

10. Dry Mustard

The most common form of dry mustard found at the grocery store is dry yellow mustard. Any dry mustard will need to be “activated” ahead of time before being used in a recipe. This is because the dry powder lacks flavor until it is incorporated with water and allowed to sit for a few minutes.

There is an exception when using this swap as a rub for meat – in this case, the juice from the meat will soak into the mustard powder to “activate” it.

Once prepped, this mustard powder offers a tangy, spicy taste. There are some similarities in flavor between this option and turmeric. Though, it’s essential to keep in mind the heat that is added when using this substitute.

Dry mustard comes in a variety of colors and flavors, varying from brown color to white. It is created by grinding mustard seeds into powder. These seed varieties each provide a different taste when used in dishes, with yellow mustard being the mildest. They offer a similar flavor to prepared mustard you would find on the grocery shelves.

Use ½ tablespoon of dry mustard to replace one tablespoon of turmeric powder.

Cooking Tip: This swap works best for savory recipes. Use dry mustard when making sauces and as dry rubs for meat and poultry.
If you can handle more spiciness in dishes, you can slightly increase the amount of dry mustard to your desired flavor.

Frequently Asked questions

What does turmeric taste like?

Turmeric is described as having an earthy flavor, pepperiness, and bitterness. It has quite a strong flavor and is one of the primary flavors that come through in curries.

Can I use paprika instead of turmeric?

Yes, you can use paprika instead of turmeric. Of course, the color of the final dish will be red instead of golden, and the flavor will differ. It is recommended to use a combination of mace and smoked paprika to create the closest flavor combination.

Is turmeric powder the same as curry powder?

No, turmeric is not the same as curry powder. However, turmeric is often used in curry powder to help provide color and flavor alongside spices like cumin, coriander, ginger, and fenugreek. It is another great replacement for turmeric powder.

Is fresh turmeric root better than powdered/ground turmeric?

Fresh turmeric certainly has a more pungent taste than powdered turmeric. It also allows more recipes to be created since they can be sliced or juiced. So, yes, fresh turmeric is better than powdered turmeric.

Summary

Next time you reach for your beloved turmeric powder bottle, try one of the above options instead. Give fresh turmeric a try for a bolder flavor that will kick your dishes up a notch. Adding to your spice repertoire is a great way to become a better chef. Plus, if you ever run out of turmeric, you’ll have a whole list of replacements to swap in easily.

Recipes with Turmeric

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document easy real food recipes perfect for busy families. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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