I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of turmeric substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a substitute that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
You can easily swap fresh turmeric for turmeric powder and vice versa. If you only want to replicate turmeric’s golden color, use annatto seeds, saffron, or safflower. To add some flavor as well, consider dried mustard, mild curry powder, or a mix of mace and paprika.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made small batches of rice pilaf to try out different turmeric substitutes.
Dried turmeric has a warm, earthy flavor with a hint of bitterness and a peppery kick. The fresh root has a milder but brighter flavor.
Turmeric is prized in Asian and Indian cuisines for its ability to infuse a dish with a vibrant golden color. And it’s full of health benefits!
Because turmeric is so unique, it was challenging to find an exact match, but I found a few decent substitute options!
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Dry mustard||Use 1/2 the amount||7/10|
|Annatto seeds||Use as much as needed to color the dish||8/10|
|Curry powder||Use 1/2 the amount||7/10|
|Fresh turmeric||1 tsp dry turmeric = 1 tbsp fresh||10/10|
|Saffron||Use a pinch||9/10|
|Ginger||Use 1/2 the amount||6/10|
|Paprika||Use 1/2 the amount||6/10|
Dry mustard is a handy substitute for turmeric in a pinch.
It will mimic the warm, earthy flavors turmeric adds to dishes, but watch out – it also packs an intensely spicy flavor!
That’s why moderation is key with dry mustard. Add too much, and your dish will become completely inedible.
The mustard will also add a little color to your dish… win win!
How to substitute: replace turmeric with half the amount of mustard, and adjust to taste.
Saffron is the perfect substitute for replicating turmerics golden color.
It’s got a unique, but delicate flavor that’s not too dissimilar to turmeric with touches of earthiness and bitterness.
There’s also floral and honey notes that bring sweetness.
The catch? Saffron is pricey because it’s notoriously difficult to harvest. A gram can go for about $20!
Good thing a little goes a long way with this spice – I used the smallest amount for my rice pilaf and it worked like a charm.
How to substitute: replace 1 teaspoon of turmeric with a pinch of saffron.
Annatto seeds are another fantastic choice if you’re looking for a substitute for turmeric based primarily on color.
They don’t taste like turmeric, but they brought a similar depth and complexity to my rice. The flavor is mildly sweet, peppery, and musky all at the same time.
Annatto may not have curcumin, but they’re loaded with carotenoids which give them a vibrant color similar to turmeric.
But you can’t just toss them into your dish. You’ll first need to steep them in oil to create annatto oil.
The video below uses 4 tablespoons of annatto seeds for every half cup of oil. And the longer you steep the seeds, the deeper the color will become.
Quick tip: the oil will stain your clothes so be careful!
How to substitute: replace turmeric with as much oil as you need to color the dish.
Turmeric is one of the spices that make up curry powder, making it a decent alternative if it’s all you have.
The catch with curry powder is it’s much more flavorful than turmeric and will be very noticeable in your dish! I personally loved my curry-rice, but this substitute won’t work for things like smoothies or juices.
Different brands and mixes will vary in taste, but to replace turmeric, it’s best to opt for a mild curry powder.
In terms of color, my rice had a yellow tinge to it. But it definitely wasn’t as brightly colored as the turmeric version.
How to substitute: replace turmeric with 1/2 the amount of curry powder.
Fresh turmeric or turmeric paste
You can use the fresh root of turmeric and the powdered version interchangeably, but there are some flavor differences.
The fresh root offers a brighter livelier flavor but it’s not as potent as the ground version.
As a general rule, one tablespoon of fresh turmeric is equivalent to one teaspoon of the dried stuff.
But hey, both options will still stain your dishes with that stunning vibrant color you’re aiming for.
Quick tip: you can also use turmeric paste if you have it, but it’s not a common ingredient.
How to substitute: replace 1 tablespoon of fresh turmeric with 1 teaspoon of dried turmeric.
Ginger is an okay turmeric substitute in a pinch.
It’s cheap and readily available – in fact you might already have some on hand.
And both spices come from the same plant family, so they share the same warm, earthy notes (they also have similar health benefits)
But ginger also has strong notes of citrus and pepper, and is much more potent than turmeric so can easily overwhelm a dish if you use too much. It works best in dishes like stews or curries where there’s other spices to balance it out.
Psst… it also won’t add any color to your dish.
How to substitute: replace the turmeric with half the amount of ginger.
Paprika is bright red and so is great for adding a bit of color to your food. My rice looked super inviting.
In terms of flavor, paprika is pretty different to turmeric (like all of these substitutes!), but does have a subtle earthiness with some peppery notes.
I used the regular variety in my rice, but you can also used smoked paprika. The flavor will be even more different to turmeric, but still delicious!
Again, because of the different in flavor it’s better to add a small amount first and build up from there.
How to substitute: replace the turmeric with half the amount of paprika.
Other substitutes to consider
The suggestions above are my top turmeric substitutes, but here are other alternatives you can try using:
- Food dye – if you’re only using the turmeric for coloring food, food dye is a nice shortcut. Regular yellow food dye will do, although it can be too light. I mixed in a drop of red food dye for a deeper color.
- Cumin seeds – these won’t add color, but they will bring warm, earthy notes to your dish with a bit of bitterness, similar to turmeric. It’s highly recommended to toast them before using them to maximize their flavor, and only use a small amount because the flavor is strong.
- Dried safflower – this is another alternative if you only need turmeric’s color. It’s dubbed as fake saffron, and it’ll give your dish the same intensely golden color. It’s much cheaper and won’t add much flavor.
Substitutes to avoid
There were lots of suggestions for turmeric substitutes across the internet, but I didn’t like all of them when I tried them.
Here are some substitutes I would avoid:
- Galangal – this is another root crop from the same plant family as turmeric and ginger. Its flavor was a lot sharper and spicier than both ginger and turmeric, and I thought it changed the essence of my rice too much.
- Garam masala – most versions of this spice blend doesn’t call for turmeric (unlike curry powder), so it won’t add a yellow color. The flavor was also very different to turmeric.
- Mustard seeds – these made my rice waay to spicy. When you crush the seeds they release the oils inside and the flavor becomes very overpowering. The flavor of mustard powder is less intense because it’s not freshly ground.
Read next: The Best Substitutes For Mustard Seeds
Common uses of turmeric
Here are some popular ways to use turmeric and the best substitutes for those situations:
- For turmeric milk and smoothies: Try using fresh turmeric or turmeric paste. Ginger also works but will add a more pronounced citrusy twist to your drinks.
- For soups, stews: Try using dry mustard, curry powder, fresh turmeric, or turmeric paste. You can also use saffron for color and its floral notes, but it’s more expensive.
- For pickling: Try using annatto seeds, saffron, or safflower.
- For rice dishes and paella: Use saffron for color, and use curry powder or paprika for color and flavor.
- For sauces and dressings: Try using dry mustard, curry powder, fresh turmeric, turmeric paste, or ginger.
Best Turmeric Substitutes + 3 To Avoid
- ½ tsp dry mustard
- 1 tsp annatto oil
- 1 tsp curry powder
- 4 tsp grated fresh turmeric
- 2 tsp turmeric paste
- pinch of saffron
- 1 tsp grated ginger
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen turmeric substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.