Safflower vs. Saffron: What’s the Difference?

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Have you ever wanted to cook a recipe that featured saffron only to be shocked at the price? Us too!

Some recipes may suggest substituting this expensive spice for safflower. That brings us to today’s question: what is the difference between safflower and saffron?

Short Answer:

Saffron is a spice made from the stamen of the saffron crocus flower, while safflower is a flower that is edible and can be used to substitute for saffron.

It can be easy to confuse specialty ingredients like saffron and safflower, especially when they have similar names, but it’s important to know these differences for the sake of your wallet

In this article, we are going to get to know safflower and saffron a little bit better and let you know exactly what the difference is between the two.

Read on to find out more.

What is Saffron?

Saffron is a spice created by drying out the stamens and stigmas of the Crocus sativus or saffron crocus.[*]

The flowers are a vivid purple with three bright red stamens per flower. 

Saffron’s claim to fame is that it is most expensive spice in the world by weight

The price is so high because the harvesting process is slow and needs to be done by hand. Each stamen must be picked and collected one by one, which takes a long time.

Originating in Iran, saffron is now used in Persian, Indian, European, and Arab cuisines. Some common dishes that use saffron include paella and biryani.

You may have encountered saffron when it has been used to create golden yellow saffron rice.

It is used for its sweet but earthy flavor and the golden color that it imparts into the food.

To use the spice, the threads must be soaked in water so they leech out their color and flavor. The water is then added to the dish and the threads are discarded.

This pricey spice also has some health benefits including the main one being that it is very high in antioxidants. [*]

What is Safflower?

Safflower is a perennial, thistle-like plant with large, yellow flowers. These flowers are round, with many long stems protruding from them. [*]

This plant is mainly cultivated to make oil from the seeds. However, the dried flowers have also been used as a substitute for saffron since the early Spanish colonies. 

To make this saffron substitute, the round, yellow flowers are picked and dried before being separated into threads.

It can be used for the same seasoning and coloring qualities as saffron is but with less potency.

Safflower is less expensive because it can be harvested on an industrial scale, which cuts down on labor costs significantly.

Safflower has some health benefits, including treating high cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. [*]

What’s the Difference Between Safflower and Saffron? 

The main difference between safflower and saffron is that saffron is made from the dried stamens of the Crocus sativus while the safflower is a flowering plant that is prodominantly grown to make seed oil.

Safflower and saffron often get confused because they can act as a substitute for one another.

Safflower is referred to as the poor man’s saffron because it is far cheaper. However, it has a similar flavor, and it has the same coloring effect that saffron has.

Side by side, the dried and prepared saffron stamens and dried safflower flowers look very similar.

If you are cooking and the recipe calls for saffron, using safflower will save you a lot of money.

The main differences between safflower and saffron are:

  • Saffron is very expensive, while safflower is relatively affordable.
  • The stamens of the crocus are used as a spice, whereas the full flower of the safflower is used.
  • Saffron can’t be harvested on mass while safflower can.
  • Regarding flavor, saffron is robust and earthy with a bit of sweetness while safflower has a milder flavor with a slight nuttiness.
  • Saffron is grown to be a spice, while safflower is grown to be made into oil.

FAQ

Does saffron expire?

Like with most spices, if it is properly dried and stored, saffron has no expiration date.

Since it is so pricey and powerful, saffron is sold in very small quantities so the likelihood of it going off before you use it is very low.

We recommend keeping it in an airtight container away from light or excess heat to keep it fresh.

How can you tell if it is real saffron?

The first and most obvious way to tell is by looking at the price.

Currently, saffron can go for up to $5000 per kg, so you will know if you are paying these steep prices.

Other than that, you can tell from the flavor. Real saffron will have a pungent flavor, while substitutes have a much milder flavor.

Can you buy powdered saffron?

Yes, you can buy saffron in powdered form but the threads are more common.

You may find powdered saffron in the ingredeints list of some spice mixes or curries like biryani. 

This is easier to use than the threads as it can be simply added to the dish with the other spices.

A popular way to use powdered saffron is to color saffron rice.

Learn more:

Conclusion

And there you have it, saffron and safflower, two very different yet similar ingredients.

  • Saffron is a spice made from the stigma and styles of the saffron crocus.
  • Safflower is a plant whose flower and seed oil are edible.
  • Safflower can be used to substitute for saffron.

We hope this has helped you figure out the difference between these two fragrant ingredients. Maybe it’s even given you the idea to swap saffron for safflower to save some cash.

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