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Best Substitutes for Turmeric

Lisa Price
Last Updated on
by Lisa Price

There are various turmeric substitute, but we’ve narrowed it down to the top five: curry, cumin, annatto, saffron, and ginger. Curry, cumin, and ginger are widely available, while saffron and annatto are less accessible economically or harder to find.

Turmeric is a plant in the ginger family whose root has both culinary and medicinal uses. Indigenous to India and Southeast Asia, turmeric is a tropical spice used primarily in Indian and Asian cuisines. Turmeric is labeled as an herb even though its root, not its leaves, is an aromatic, edible, and medicinal component.

Tumeric
Turmeric

Turmeric comes as a powder and a paste for spicing foods and sauces. It’s also a common ingredient in teas and herbal supplements. Turmeric is very nutrient-rich, with more than 300 vitamins, minerals, and other chemical compounds that are highly advantageous for our health.

One of the most beneficial turmeric compounds is called curcumin, which acts as a highly effective anti-inflammatory and antioxidant agent that bolsters the immune system and brain health and facilitates digestion.

Using turmeric in food and drink recipes imparts flavor, color, and health benefits, so finding a substitute for all three attributes is a tall order. Still, the best substitutes for turmeric manage to emulate turmeric very well, depending on turmeric’s contribution to a specific recipe.

Below, we will elaborate on the best turmeric replacement, explaining why and how each substitute aptly replaces turmeric. 

1. Curry Powder

Curry powder is an excellent turmeric substitute
Curry Powder

Curry powder is the best substitute for turmeric in terms of flavor since turmeric is usually one of the many spices in common curry mixes that you’ll find at the store. Additionally, there are numerous different kinds of curry mixes, both in powders and pastes, so depending on the recipe and region from which it originates, there is a form of curry for your flavor and textural needs.

Furthermore, you can find curry at any supermarket or specialty spice store, and it is very cheap. You can look for curry pastes in the Asian food section of your local grocery store. There are various types of curry, the most popular of which are green, red, and yellow. Most curry powders and pastes show a list of spices on the ingredient label, and you will most likely see turmeric on the list.

Curry powder is similar in color to turmeric, so it also provides a good color substitute in addition to taste.

2. Saffron

Saffron is also a great replacement for turmeric
Saffron

Like turmeric, saffron is a spice harvested and used in similar south Asian regions along with Middle Eastern cuisines. Saffron is a delicate spice because it is dried stamens from the flower of the saffron crocus. Due to its fragile and labor-intensive harvesting procedures, saffron is one of the most expensive spices you’ll find. You can usually find it at high-end grocery chains or specialty spice stores.

Luckily, saffron is incredibly potent, and a little bit goes a long way in coloring and imparting flavor to food. Saffron is a deep red color, but when mixed with liquid, becomes a deep gold that resembles turmeric perfectly. That said, saffron has a unique flavor that does not imitate turmeric’s more earthy and peppery taste profile.

If you decide to use saffron as a turmeric substitute, you need far less of it to color and flavor your food than the required turmeric measurements. Because they are from similar regions, Saffron appears in many of the same dishes as turmeric, like curries and rice.

In fact, saffron rice is a dish that we would suggest turmeric as a substitute to save costs and add health benefits, but for this article, you can reverse the suggestion to add color and a new flavor.

3. Annatto

Annatto
Annatto

Annatto is another excellent color substitute for turmeric. Annatto is a spice that originates from seeds of the south and central American tropical Achiote tree. Annatto is also a deep reddish-brown that turns golden when mixed into sauces or stews.

Annatto has a subtly peppery and sweet flavor, so it also doesn’t act as the best flavor substitute for turmeric if you’re trying to imitate its strong earthy bitterness. Still, annatto’s flavor profile is subtle enough not to clash with any other flavors in a recipe. Plus, annatto has beta carotin and similar antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to turmeric, so it acts as a good substitute for health benefits as well.

Annatto works well in curries as well as dairy dishes for spice and color. Dishes that call for turmeric like aloo gobi or Indian paneer (cheese curd) would also work well with annatto. You can also use annatto for tofu scrambles to color it without imparting a strong flavor.

You can find annatto in the spice section at grocery stores nationwide, although it is not as common as cumin or curry powder.

4. Cumin

Cumin Seeds are good substitutes for turmeric
Cumin

Cumin provides an excellent flavor substitute for turmeric and is one of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Mexican cuisines’ most important spices. Cumin has a very strong earthy, nutty, and spicy taste that is very easy to distinguish. Also, cumin has a dark gold color that contributes its coloring to dishes, albeit not to the extent that turmeric does.

Cumin is another main ingredient in curries but also lends its flavoring to Mexican dips and main courses like enchiladas, taco seasonings, and Mexican rice dishes. Classic American bean and meat chili and black bean soup usually contain cumin as a key ingredient. Since its flavor is somewhat stronger than turmeric, you can use a smaller proportion of cumin when replacing turmeric in a dish.

Along with flavor and color, cumin has a wealth of health benefits, further adding to its legitimacy as a great turmeric substitute. Cumin aids in digestion and prevents indigestion and diarrhea. It also stimulates hunger, aids in sleep, and strengthens the immune system.

You can find cumin at any grocery store, convenience store, or specialty market. It is almost as ubiquitous as salt and pepper.

Can’t find cumin? See recommended cumin substitutes.

5. Ginger

Ginger can be used as turmeric substitute
Ginger

Since turmeric is a member of the ginger family, it is fitting to include ginger root in our list of turmeric substitutes. Ginger and turmeric offer the same long list of health benefits and are often complementary components in teas and herbal supplements.

Ginger, like turmeric, is a root that you can purchase raw or ground into a powder. The powdered form of ginger is a more concentrated spice with a stronger flavor that will turn bitter if used in excess. However, even in its purest root form, ginger has a strong sweet and spicy flavor that is unmistakable and well known in any part of the world.

Ginger is a key ingredient in soups, beers, teas, cookies, cakes, sauces, stir-fries, and as a pickled garnish for sushi. Ginger is a good flavor and healthy substitute for turmeric and is always available in both powder and raw form at any grocery store, market, or specialty spice store.

 FAQs

What is Turmeric?

Turmeric is a tuberous plant indigenous to India and Southeast Asia that is harvested for its nutrient-rich, flavorful, and colorful root that we use as a powder, paste, or unprocessed root in food, dyes, medicines, and topical pastes.

What are the health benefits of Turmeric?

Turmeric has an abundance of health benefits due to its chemical makeup that includes curcuminoids, calcium, fiber, beta carotene, niacin, iron, potassium, magnesium, and Vitamin C. All these vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients endow turmeric with the following health benefits:
1. anti-inflammatory
2. antioxidant
3. Brain function booster
4. Promotes heart health
5. Promotes easy digestion
6. Boosts immune system
7. Promotes weight loss

What cuisine features turmeric the most?

You’ll find turmeric mainly in Indian and Southeast Asian cuisines. However, now that turmeric has been recognized for its health benefits, turmeric supplements, teas, and bottled coffee drinks are widely available in Europe and North America.

What dishes typically contain turmeric?

The most popular dishes that contain turmeric are:
1. Indian and Southeast Asian Curries
2. Moroccan chicken marinades and tagine sauces
3. Curried Cauliflower
4. Yellow Rice
5. Indian Korma
6. Indian Lentil dishes
7. Cakes

What does turmeric taste like?

Turmeric has an earthy, slightly bitter, and subtly peppery flavor. Adding too much of it can result in unpleasant bitterness, and it is usually one of many ingredients in a spice recipe.

What is the best flavor replacement for turmeric?

Curry powder is the best flavor replacement as turmeric is usually a key ingredient in all curry powders and pastes. Cumin comes in a close second.

What is the best color substitute for turmeric?

Saffron is the best color substitute for turmeric. The only drawback is that saffron is very expensive, so if you want a cheaper option, we recommend annatto.

If you have left over Turmeric, see our guide on how to freeze turmeric root.

About Lisa Price
Lisa Price
Lisa is Food Champ's resident fitness enthusiast and nutrition expert. She holds a nutrition degree in her home state of Florida and works for a large health system to ensure sound nutrition and dietetics information is passed on to all members.
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