Turmeric is an earthy, pungent, and bitter spice that’s part of the ginger family. Few ingredients in the kitchen offer the benefits that turmeric does: In addition to its unique flavor, there’s a lovely orange and ginger aroma that is hard to match. Turmeric also adds vibrant color to soups, curries, rice, marinades, baked goods, and beverages. And finally, there’s the host of nutrients, essential oils, and antioxidants that research suggests can offer a range of health benefits.
If you’re in search of a substitute for turmeric, then you have a big challenge. Its particular set of benefits means that no other ingredient will compare.
So, the initial question you need to ask is, "What role does turmeric play?" If it’s the hero of the dish, then it may be best to make something else until you have that unique spice. A Moroccan curry is raised to a new level with the rich, warming addition of turmeric. Do you want to mess with this classic dish?
On the other hand, there are plenty of recipes where turmeric plays a supporting role. We have a selection of alternatives for those cases where you don’t have any of the real stuff.
10 Turmeric Substitutes That Work
1. Dried and fresh turmeric
If the recipe calls for fresh turmeric, then you can substitute it with the dried version, and vice versa. As with all herbs and spices, it’s hard to beat the fresh version for fantastic flavor. If you decide to use turmeric powder, then use one teaspoon for every ½ inch chunk of fresh root.
Saffron is an excellent option if you’re chasing that vibrant yellowish-orange color for your meal. Rice, slow-cooked casseroles, and soups will all benefit from saffron, which provides a similar vibrant hue.
This backup option won’t mimic the flavor, as saffron has a sweeter undertone. It's best to use small amounts so as not to taint the character of the other ingredients.
The downside to saffron is that it has to be hand-harvested over a short season. This process makes it the most expensive spice on the market; your meal will end up costing more than if you use turmeric.
3. Annatto seeds
The annatto seed comes from achiote trees and makes a good turmeric substitute if you’re looking to imitate its color. Annatto imparts a vibrant yellowish-orange color and can be used for rice dishes, casseroles, and marinades.
To use annatto, we recommend a 1:2 ratio of seeds and vegetable oil. For example, mix ¼ cup of seeds with ½ cup of oil and allow the pigment to infuse through the liquid.
The flavor of annatto seed is peppery, sweet, and nutty, which is quite different from turmeric. However, if you don't mind messing with the original recipe, then this is a favorable option.
4. Madras curry powder
Madras curry powder often includes turmeric, so you’ll have some flavor notes that are consistent between the two ingredients. Chili is usually a key ingredient, which means that the dish will end up hotter and the color will have a more intense red tone than if you used turmeric.
Madras curry powder commonly includes cumin and fenugreek. If you’re cooking an Indian dish, then these flavors will fit right in; for other recipes, they may not be appropriate. Madras certainly has a stronger flavor, so add less if you decide to use it as an alternative.
Note: If you'd like to learn more about Indian spices, check out our guide on fenugreek substitutes.
5. Yellow mustard seeds
Yellow mustard seeds are an excellent choice if you want yellow-colored food. As with Madras powder, this option will also provide an intense burst of flavor that may not be appropriate for every dish. Reduce the quantity of this ingredient to avoid making an unpleasant meal.
Note: Other types, such as Dijon mustard or English mustard, won't work well.
6. Turmeric paste
Turmeric paste can be purchased online and from some Asian grocery stores; it is not easy to find in regular supermarkets. Available in a jar or tube, this paste will provide a similar flavor as the fresh root or dried powder. It is quite a convenient option, but you’ll usually want to add a little extra than what the recipe calls for as it doesn’t have as much intensity. Use this paste for any application for which you would use the fresh or dried version.
7. Mace and Smoked Paprika
This combination of spices does an okay backup job for turmeric. The pungent spiciness of mace—along with the muskiness and reddish tinge of paprika—works well in any savory dish.
8. Ginger Powder
Ginger powder is a part of the Zingiberaceae family, which also happens to be turmeric’s classification. Although they share some valuable health benefits, the flavor of ginger is spicy, sweet, and pungent all in the same mouthful. It may not taste right in some savory dishes, but for that next smoothie, it’ll work perfectly.
9. Galangal powder
Galangal powder has a sharp, piney flavor and is a lovely addition to Indian curries. It won’t bring any vibrant colors to the dish, but it will bring plenty of flavor. A great alternative if you don’t enjoy turmeric and want a different taste. Use sparingly as it has an overpowering quality that shouldn’t be underestimated.
10. Cumin Seeds
Cumin seeds are another ingredient to use if you don’t like turmeric. Its flavor is earthy and quite robust. Combine reduced quantities of cumin and galangal for a yummy Indian curry.
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Turmeric, aka kukurma, is an ingredient that is popular in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian cooking. Chicken marinated with yogurt and turmeric is vibrant and flavorsome. Rice looks more appealing, and Lebanese lentil soup is hard to resist with the addition of this yellow powder.
There is a range of reasons you may be looking for a turmeric substitute. Food allergies, inability to source any, or maybe you don’t enjoy the taste? Whatever the reason, you’ll need to decide if a substitution is necessary. If you think it won’t hurt the recipe then simply leave it out.
To replace the color of turmeric use annatto seed or saffron. Mace and paprika work well as a flavor alternative, as does saffron. Ginger will offer excellent health benefits for that smoothie you want to make but don’t like the taste of turmeric.
Dried and fresh turmeric can be used interchangeably as well if that’s an option. Just remember to use one teaspoon of powder for every ½ inch chunk of fresh root.
Do you have a useful substitute for turmeric that isn’t on our list? Leave a comment below with your suggestions.