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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.

Turmeric Substitutes and Alternatives

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.

If you’re substituting it 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

If you’re not interested in paying the high cost of saffron, safflower is another excellent alternative to turmeric. 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 too, 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.

Garam masala 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, ensuring 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).

Frequently Asled 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.


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

Turmeric Golden Milk Latte

bright yellow drink in glass cup

Turmeric Roasted Cauliflower

oval plate with curry roasted cauliflower with raisins

Turmeric Mac and Cheese

white bowl with creamy yellow mac and cheese

Turmeric Chicken Rice

a bowl with yellow rice and peas

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