Most of us know about the wonderful health benefits of turmeric, but maybe not what an amazing addition it can make to a recipe. Turmeric has long been cherished for its ability to add both flavor and color to a dish. It's unique, earthy musk provides the final touches on our favorite vegetable and starch dishes.
While near impossible to replace turmeric in certain settings, there are a few close-seconds that can help when you're in a pinch. Depending on whether you need some added color, flavor, or nutritional properties, we've devised a list of 7 turmeric substitutions to get you as close to the real thing as possible.
- Our Quick Substitution Guide -
What Exactly is Turmeric?
Turmeric, also known as kurkuma (or the golden spice) is an earthy, pungent, bitter spice that comes from grinding down the root of the turmeric plant. For thousands of years it has been used for cooking, medicine, and color(dye) purposes. It adds a unique flavor and is the sole coloring agent in many Middle Eastern, Indian and Asain cuisines. Besides being extremely nutritious and part of a trending healthwave in recent years, it is a vital addition to countless traditional recipes.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, and is the reason for it's alleged healing properties.
Fresh turmeric looks like an orange ginger root, and can be thinly sliced or pressed to be used in a recipe. Ground turmeric can be used interchangeably, ½ tsp turmeric powder for every 2-inch piece of root used.
Saffron, the most expensive spice on the market today, produces a great vibrant red-orange color. Although the price tag can be high, only a very small amount is needed for a recipe. It is slightly sweeter than turmeric, but depending on your recipe, could work as a great substitute. The reason saffron is so special (and expensive) is due to the small amount that is grown and harvested. Approximately 4,000 flowers are needed to produce just once ounce of saffron powder. The small red threads picked from the flowers are used in cooking, but they are also sold in powder-form.
Similarities: color, flavor
Suggested Conversion: start with ¼ tsp saffron : 1 tsp turmeric
Flavor Notes: subtle flavor and aroma, pungent, floral, sweet undertone
Suggested Dishes: Seafood dishes, risottos, casseroles, stews, sauces, marinades
Originating from the same family as turmeric (Zingiberaceae) many think ginger is a root, but it is actually classified as a rhizome, which is an underground stem. For savory dishes, this is not the best substitute. Ginger and turmeric share a lot of the same wonderful health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties, but the flavors do differ. Depending on what you’re making, ginger could be the substitute you have on hand. If you don’t like the taste of turmeric, but are looking for similar vitamins and minerals to add to your daily repertoire, throw some ginger in a smoothie, or add it to your favorite hot drink.
Similarities: nutritional properties, texture
Suggested Conversion: start with ½ tsp ginger : 1 tsp turmeric
Flavor Notes: Spicy, sweet, pungent
Suggested Dishes: Smoothies, hot drinks, sweet dishes
3) Annatto Seeds
The seeds from these beautiful plants boast a vibrant yellowish-orange color, great for rice dishes, sauces, marinades, anything you want to add that wonderful color to. This is a great alternative for naturally coloring a dish, anything from cakes and baked goods, to poultry and sausages.
The flavor is quite different than turmeric, but if your recipe can be slightly modified, the color these seeds lend is very similar to that of turmeric. Annatto is also known as Cuban turmeric, and has many of the same health benefits, so throw some in your smoothie if youre looking for an energy boost.
Try this: mixing ¼ cup annatto seeds with ½ cup oil, allowing the color to infuse through the liquid before using it in a recipe.
Similarities: nutritional properties, color, texture
Suggested Conversion: 1:1
Flavor Notes: peppery, sweet, nutty, mild, undertone of nutmeg
Suggested Dishes: rice, sausade, marinades, poulty, baked goods, smoothies
4) Madras Curry Powder
Madras curry powder is typically a blend of different spices, the majority of the mix being turmeric, along with coriander, cumin, ginger, and cardamom. If you are making an Indian recipe or Middle Eastern dish, curry powder will work well, but for more delicate recipes this might not be the best substitute. It is great fot adding that burst of vibrant color into savory dishes. It definitely has a stronger, more complex flavor, so use sparingly and taste as you go.
Similarities: texture, color
Suggested Conversion: ½ tsp curry powder : 1 tsp turmeric
Flavor Notes: complex, earthy, fragrant
Suggested Dishes: marinades, savory dishes, curries, sauces
5) Smoked Paprika & Mace
Smoked paprika mixed with mace, which is a spice that comes from grinding the coating of nutmeg seeds, can create a good substitute for turmeric, especially in savory dishes. The musky flavor and reddish color of the smoked paprika mixes well with the pungent spiciness of mace. If you have both of these spices on hand, make a 1:1 blend and slowly add it to your recipe, tasting as you go. (Compliments of SPICEography)
Similarities: color, texture, flavor
Suggested Conversion: start with ½ tsp blend : 1 tsp turmeric
Flavor Notes: smoked paprika: musky, sweet, mild, complex
Mace: cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg
Suggested Dishes: sauces, soups, poultry, marinades, savory dishes
Cumin is great if you're looking to enhance the flavor and aroma of your dish, but does not contribute any of the vibrant color that turmeric does. The smokiness of cumin is similar to that of turmeric, but it can easily overpower a dish, so use sparingly. Only use if red-orange color is of secondary importance. Cumin is also a good source of calcium, magnesium and iron, and can be a great digestive agent.
Try this: mixing cumin powder with garlic powder 1:1 for an even more intense flavor, if you think if will work well with your recipe.
Similarities: warmth, earthiness, smokiness
Suggested Conversion: ½ tsp cumin : 1 tsp turmeric
Flavor Notes: tangy, bitter, earthy, nutty, sweet, pungent, undertones of lemon
Suggested Dishes: sauces, soups, marinades, Mexican & Middle Eastern dishes
7) Yellow Mustard Seeds
If you're looking for something to enhance the color of your dish, and all you have on hand is mustard seeds, they could come in handy in a pinch. Be aware, the flavor profile is much richer than turmeric, so use sparingly and taste as you go. Yellow mustard powder can also work if you don't have seeds. If you're looking to add that vibrant color to your dish, add a small amount at a time, if you dont think it will completely alter the original intended taste of your dish.
Similarities: color, texture (powdered form)
Suggested Conversion: ½ tsp mustard : 1 tsp turmeric
Flavor Notes: rich, strong, nutty, hot, pungent
Suggested Dishes: Indian & Mediterranean dishes, sauces
Replacing turmeric won't always be so straightforward. Sometimes it's best to just take the turmeric out of the recipe altogether. Trial and error is the only way to know for sure. We hope this was helpful!
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, don't hesitate to leave a comment below. We try to respond within 24 hours.
Founder of Robust Kitchen