If you’ve ever followed a wellness influence on Instagram, then you know that the miracle is turmeric. This golden spice is one of the most nutritious supplements out there, providing plenty of health benefits to the body and the brain. Better yet, it also tastes amazing, so it’s something you simply must add to your spice rack.
However, what if you haven’t gotten around to doing that yet? Worry not, as you likely have a suitable substitute for turmeric in your pantry right now. In fact, you might even have six of them!
6 Delightful Alternatives to Turmeric
1. Madras Curry Powder
The best substitute for turmeric is one that actually contains turmeric. Madras curry powder is a blend of aromatics like chili, fenugreek, cumin, coriander, and of course turmeric. This combination is a real flavor bomb, capable of taking savory dishes like Indian curries to the next level.
Because the blend contains turmeric, it’s the perfect alternative for golden spice. It has the same earthy, pungent flavor that turmeric does, with slight hints of ginger. What’s more, it also imparts the same golden color to your dish that turmeric does. However, since madras has a stronger flavor profile, you will need to adjust the amounts when substituting.
1 Tbsp of turmeric = ½ Tbsp of Madras Curry.
Also, keep in mind that because Madras contains chili powder, it’s much spicier than turmeric. Therefore, it may not work as a replacement for all dishes, especially sweet ones.
2. Dry Mustard
Mustard and hot dogs are like bread and butter — a match made in heaven. However, besides flavoring your favorite 4th of July staple, did you know mustard makes a good substitute for turmeric? Mustard, more specifically dried and ground-up mustard seeds have a similar earthy, umami flavor that turmeric is known for.
They also impart a delightful spicy bite to your dish, which is perfect if you’re cooking Indian or Pakistani dishes. While this alternative won’t give your food that vibrant yellow color, it will undoubtedly still be delicious. However, just like Madras curry, keep in mind the spice level.
There are 3 types of mustard seeds — black, yellow, and brown. Each type has a different flavor profile, with black mustard seeds being the strongest. When it comes to turmeric substitutes, yellow mustard seeds work best. They’re milder and earthy enough to match the golden spice. Still, take care to adjust the ratios.
1 Tbsp of turmeric = ½ Tbsp of yellow dry mustard.
3. Ground Ginger
If you want a good substitute for turmeric, go straight to the source. Turmeric and ginger roots belong to the Zingiberaceae family, a genus of flowering plants with over 1600 species. This is why both plants have such a similar pungent flavor profile.
However, ginger has a slightly zesty aftertaste that works incredibly well in fruit-based desserts. In fact, it’s one of the most common ways to add spice to fruit smoothies and ice creams. Sadly, the ground ginger powder won’t impart a yellow color to your dish, but it is a great alternative if you’re looking for that earthy tang.
Once again, because ginger is on average sweet and spicy, be careful to adjust the amounts.
1 Tbsp of turmeric = ½ Tbsp of ginger powder.
Also, keep in mind that because of the added sweetness, ginger may not be a good alternative in savory dishes. Therefore, feel free to go with other options on this list if you’re cooking curry.
Saffron is like the gold of spices — no, scratch that, it’s even more luxurious than gold. Just 1 ounce of saffron can cost up to $72. Gold, on the other hand, usually goes for $52 per ounce. Therefore, these delicate threads are actually one of the most expensive things in the world. This isn’t without reason.
Since saffron flowers only bloom once a year, for just a week, harvesting them is a race against time. What’s more, saffron flowers produce just three of those characteristic stigmas, meaning that it takes about 170.000 saffron flowers to get just one pound of the spice.
However, the delightfully sweet flavor that saffron imparts to savory rice dishes, casseroles and soups makes the whole thing worth it. Plus, because it also bleeds a bright yellow color, it’s a suitable substitute for turmeric. Still, saffron is much more overpowering than turmeric, so you will need to adjust the amounts when substituting.
1 Tbsp of turmeric = ¼ – ⅛ Tbsp of saffron.
Lastly, to state the obvious, saffron isn’t a very budget-friendly ingredient. So unless you’re prepared to splurge, it’s best to opt for other alternatives on this list.
5. Mace and Smoked Paprika
If you don’t mind getting into a bit of kitchen chemistry, then this substitute for turmeric is for you. Mace is a lesser-known cousin of nutmeg. It has a slightly less concentrated flavor, with undertones of cinnamon and black pepper. Therefore, it’s the perfect bridge between savory and sweet, which works so well in fall desserts like pumpkin spice pie, or maple donuts.
What’s more, if you mix it with smoked paprika, you’ll get a nice smoky and earthy aftertaste, perfect for hearty savory dishes. However, be mindful of the spice level. Depending on the type of paprika you use, this blend could potentially turn up the heat at your dinner table.
Therefore, choose sweet smoked paprika, and blend a Tbsp of it with 1 Tbsp of mace. If you feel like the mix could use a bit more sweetness, add more mace. Once you have your mix, get to substituting.
1 Tbsp of turmeric = ½ Tbsp of mace and smoked paprika mix.
6. Annatto Seeds
Annatto seeds are yet another underrated spice. This Mexican treasure comes from the achiote tree and is actually one of the most common ways to naturally color food. The seeds bleed a yellow-reddish hue, which is incredibly similar in tone to turmeric and saffron. Therefore, it’s the perfect substitute for turmeric if color is what you’re after.
The best way to do this is to toast the seeds in some vegetable oil. With a 1:2 ratio of seeds to oil, toast them for a few seconds in the pan to get that golden hue. But keep in mind that annatto will only give you the trademark color of turmeric, not the flavor.
Annatto seeds have a sweet, nutty, and peppery taste, which is quite different from turmeric’s pungent notes. But if you don’t mind tinkering with the flavor profile of your dish, feel free to use some annatto in your recipe.
1 Tbsp of turmeric = ½ – ¼ Tbsp of annatto seeds.