Is Saffron the Same as Safflower? (A Comprehensive Guide)

Short answer: No. Saffron is a spice derived from the saffron crocus plant’s floral stigma (the female reproductive parts). Safflower is a herb commonly associated with safflower oil derived from the seeds of the Carthamus tinctorius plant.

Herbal tea blends include saffron and safflower petals for their sweetness and color. Safflower petals can be used as a saffron substitute for their color attributes. 

Have you ever wondered why saffron and safflower create such a culinary buzz?

At a glance, the names and dried products may look similar. However, there is more to these sought-after ingredients than meets the eye.

Although the culinary applications can cross paths, each varies in taste, color, and texture.

Keep reading as we unravel their alluring attributes, dig a little deeper into the cost elements, and explore exciting dishes and their health benefits.

Saffron vs. Safflower

What is Saffron?

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Saffron is a spice derived from the saffron crocus plant’s floral stigma (the female reproductive parts) and is renowned for its unique flavor, aroma, and color.  

It is believed to originate in the Mediterranean region, Asia Minor, and Iran. 

As the global demand increased, countries such as Australia, Switzerland, and France started to grow, cultivate and export it.  

The floral head is a gorgeous deep lavender with dark purple veins. In the center, three vibrant scarlet stigmas await to be plucked and dried into saffron.

Due to the intricate harvesting and drying process, it has claimed first place on the world’s most expensive spice list.  

While it may be costly, this has not deterred it from being a staple in cuisine worldwide, particularly French, Indian, and Spanish.

Did you know that saffron plant petals are edible? 

Indeed, these purple beauties add color and floral notes to herbal tea.  

Also, the inviting purple hues of the flowers are used to dye fabrics.  

What is Safflower?

img of What's Safflower

Safflower is a herb obtained from the thistle-like flower of the Carthamus tinctorius plant

It is native to the arid regions of Africa and Asia. Today, it is cultivated on a mass scale.  

Manufacturers extract safflower oil from flower seeds to produce a mild-tasting, almost flavorless vegetable oil with excellent high smoke point qualities.  

The oil is not limited to culinary uses. It is used in medicine, tropical ointments, beauty products, and biodiesel, to name a few.

In addition, the bright yellow or orange petals add color and a delightful floral sweetness to herbal tea and food.  

Yet again, the petals extend beyond food and have been used as a dye for centuries, giving textiles and clothing a bold golden-yellow color.  

As with saffron, the harvesting process of oil and petals is highly involved, putting safflower oil in a higher-cost category.  

Speaking of cultivation, let’s tap into the processes.  

Cultivation of Saffron and Safflower: From Petal To Pantry

Growing and harvesting saffron and safflower is a generations-old master skill. 

It takes a passionate and dedicated team to yield a successful harvest.  

If you want an in-depth look into the intricacies, check out the links below:

For now, let’s pick up the process from the open flower, stigma, and seed harvesting stages.


There is a limited window of only a few days during Fall (Autumn) to harvest saffron stigmas from the open flowers. 

Mostly, women do the picking, as their bone structure and higher muscle resistance to fatigue allow them to bend over with their legs apart for extended periods. These elements play a vital role in harvesting all the flowers timeously. 

Once picked, the open flowers are placed on a table where the three stigmas are carefully removed by hand using tweezers before being placed on racks to dry.

Saffron takes around three to seven days to dry in a well-ventilated, naturally warm environment out of direct sunlight. Then, it is packaged appropriately for export.

Wow, quite a process!  

Certainly, we greatly respect the farmers and harvesters that work around the clock to bring us such a majestic and aromatic spice.


Typically, safflower is harvested using a small-grain harvesting machine when the leaves turn brown.  

Like other seed oil, safflower oil is expeller pressed to extract oil from the seeds. Then, the oil is refined, removing a fair amount of the nutritional content and flavor.  

Don’t worry; you can get cold-pressed, unrefined safflower oil. This method ensures a higher nutritional value and the same neutral taste.

Now for the colorful and aromatic petal harvesting techniques.

In many circumstances, farmers need to harvest by hand. This manual process is a lengthy and painstaking due to the hardiness of the plant and the thorns.  

As a result, engineers developed a safflower petal harvesting machine. This invention speeds up the process of removing the petals.  

Thank goodness, as we love these florally sweet petals in herbal tea and for adding color to meals.  

Compared to saffron spice and flowers, it is easier to harvest safflower seeds and flowers, contributing to the cost factors.  

Primary Differences Between Saffron and Safflower

Before we explore the cost considerations and health benefits, let’s get to the delicious part!  

You guessed it, the enticing flavors and culinary uses.  

When you choose a recipe with saffron, you are in for an unforgettable eating experience bursting with unique flavors and colors. 

Now, we are not pushing safflower aside, as it too offers palate-pleasing and colorful meals.

When using saffron in your dishes, a little goes a long way. A meer pinch turns a bland dish into a flavorful fiesta.

Here are comparison tables of Saffron and Safflower to help you along. 

ComparisonsSaffron SpiceSaffron Petals 
Flavor profile:Mildly earthy with floral notes and a hint of sweetnessSweet honey-like tones with floral notes
Color profile:  Vibrant scarlet (red)Deep lavender with dark purple veins
Best uses for:– PaellaRisotto
– Seafood dishes – in particular, shellfish
– Rice dishes
– Cous Chicken dishes
– Mashed potato
– Salad dressings
– SoupsStews
Best uses for sweet treats:
– Vanilla-based cakes or cupcakesIce cream
– Panna CottaPastries
– CookiesCreme BruleFudge
– Tiramisu 
– Add to herbal teas for a touch of floral sweetness
– Use as a colorful garnish
– Use as a substitute for saffron for similar color qualities

Related Article:  What Does Saffron Taste Like?  

We know the feeling when your recipe calls for saffron, and your local grocery store has run out!  

Don’t panic; there are suitable substitutes easily accessible.  Find them here.

Ok, let’s get savvy with safflower!

Avid epicures reach out to safflower oil for its high smoke point qualities. 

This quality means it can simultaneously reach high temperatures without burning while promoting good health.

Indeed, one of the best and underrated vegetable oils.

ComparisonsSafflower OilSafflower Petals 
Flavor profile:Neutral and odorless vegetable oilSweet light floral notes, slightly smokey with a chocolatey aroma
Color profile:Bright sunshine yellowthin bright yellow petals, with orange and red hues
Best uses: Stir-frying Sauteing
Deep frying
– Add to herbal teas for a sweet and refreshing, florally flavor
– Add to savory dishes for a subtle sweetness and rich color
– Add fresh petals to saladsUse as a garnish

Nutritional Values

Saffron is rich in plant compounds that act as antioxidants that help protect your cells against oxidative stress. 

Antioxidants present in saffron include crocin, crocetin, safranal, and kaempferol.

Crocin and crocetin are responsible for the stigma’s gorgeous color. Safranal gives saffron its distinct taste and aroma, and the flower petals contain kaempferol.

These four powerful antioxidants can assist with the following:

  • Depression
  • Protect brain cells
  • Improve inflammation
  • Fight cancer
  • Reduce PMS symptoms
  • Aid weigh-loss
  • Act as an aphrodisiac 

Want to learn more?  Have a look here.

Safflower oil is rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, essential healthy fats for overall excellent health.

The combination of these two unsaturated fatty acids helps promote the following:

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Fluid muscle movement
  • Blood clotting
  • Excellent brain functioning

Keen to expand your knowledge?  Click here to learn more.

Cost Considerations: Worth the Splurge?

To splurge or not to splurge, this is the question?

We understand that saffron has a hefty price tag. This cost is due to the intricate cultivation, harvesting process, and export costs. 

Undoubtedly, the expression “time is money” aligns with saffron.

That said, it is worth every penny. Remember, you only need to add the tiniest pinch to pack a powerful flavor punch and aroma. 

So, if you can splurge every once in a while, we encourage you to do it!

For all the saffron fans, here is a link that updates the cost of saffron regularly.

When it comes to safflower oil, you will not need to dig as deep into your pocket to acquire it.  

By now, you can see it offers different culinary qualities than saffron, with the expectation of using safflower petals.  

Even so; it is an excellent choice to consider when cooking food at high temperatures.  

We’re not through yet!

Popular Dishes Using Saffron 

Saffron-infused rice is one of the top dishes. Furthermore, crispy saffron rice takes on an unusual form. 

Curious to find out what it is?

First, here is a delicious recipe for Saffron Rice—the perfect side dish for roast chicken and vegetables.  

Now, get your Middle Eastern vibe on and try this scrumptious Crispy Tachin Saffron Rice.  

It takes on the shape of a tart with a delightfully crispy base and is fabulously fruity.  

But don’t take our word for it. Try it out and let us know.

Lastly, we must include one delectable dessert, and what could be more luxurious than this saffron-infused panna cotta recipe? Smooth, creamy, and pure indulgence!

Final Floral Thoughts

It’s no wonder the culinary world is buzzing around saffron and safflower.  

If you want to add a surprising element to your family’s favorite dinner, why not try saffron? 

Next time you are in the mood for stir-fry, consider safflower oil’s excellent high smoke point qualities.

To complete your kitchen experience, entice your family’s tastebuds with a lavish saffron dessert.

By far, two unique and fascinating ingredients that bring you new and exciting eating experiences.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Flora)

Why do you love saffron and safflower?  Let us know

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