Safflower or عصفر in Arabic (pronounced Osfor) is a little know spice used in Damascene cooking. It has an earthy subtle flavour and gives dishes a light yellow orange colour. The spice is the dried petals of Safflowers flowers. Apart from being used in Syria and the wider Middle East as a spice, the plant is grown for its seed oil. It is also used in herbal medicine or as an organic dye for cloths and paper.

Many people consider safflower as poor man alternative to Saffron. This might be the case in other countries but I will have to disagree in the case of Damascus. Saffron doesn't exist in Damascene cooking. I can't think of a single recipe sweet or savoury that calls for saffron.

Safflower in Syrian cooking is usually an optimal ingredient. It adds a certain note to the flavour of certain dishes but they work perfectly well without it. It is mainly used in stuffed vegetable dishes including courgettes (Kusa mehshi كوسا محشي), aubergine and cabbage. Other uses include Ejjeh عجة (Syrian omelet) and Kibbeh Bel Senyieh كبة بالصينية (oven baked kibbeh).

One dish in particular is not the same without safflower. Fakhdeh فخدة, a chicken broth dish cooked with large amounts of safflower gives the dish its characteristic flavour and colour.

I will try to cook few dishes using safflower in the near future.


soreal said...

used to think 3sfor is turmeric.... no?

Noor said...

Salams, I never have tried this inshAllah I will though.

Kano said...

They are two different things. Turmeric is the powder of the root of a different plant, curcuma longa according to Wikipedia. The Arabic name of turmeric is Kurkum.

I will be putting some recipes using this soon. I hope it is not difficult to find in Saudi Arabia.

Unknown said...

So cool, I have never heard of safflowers used in cooking.

Anonymous said...

You mention 3jja in your post - how is this done in Syria? I only know (as usual ;) the Tunisian version. and thanks a lot for this post, now I finally know what this stuff is called that I used to see everywhere


Kulsum@JourneyKitchen said...

I have seen this and always wondered wht to do with it. Looking forward to seeing it being used on your posts

Kano said...

Now you know you should try it :)

Ejjeh traditionally made with eggs onions and some other ingredient usually parsley or courgette. They look something like Indian onion bhaji with a different taste of course. I do an adapted version which I will post soon when I have time.

Is that in Kuwait?

Anonymous said...

It's available 'off the cuff' in Australia and is wonderful especially for pickling lemons (yum!), however is frowned upon by foodie Aussies who think that its a 'fake' saffron! Diana.

Kano said...

Thanks for the info. I think they use it for pickeling lemon in North
africa as well.

Youy see, it is available in Australis so no excuse not to try it :)

Anonymous said...

ive never seen a mahshi or kibbeh recipe using this..or and where is this used in the cooking process for these dishes?

Anonymous said...

I know kurkum is used to color the delicious Palestinian and Jordanian dish/pilaf called Maqlooba this spice used too in Syria to make rice/pilaf dishes yellow too?

Kano said...

@Anonymous 1
In mehshi, I add it to the stuffing. In ejjeh, add to the mix. for KIbbeh bil senyeh I just rub osfor on the surface with some water to give a nice colour and subtle flavour.

@Anonymous 2
No we don't. In Syria (Damascus at least) we like to keep the rice natural white as God intended.

Anonymous said...

thank you,,,i am intrigued by this,,so the mehshi stuffing is yellow?

Kano said...


It is not strong yellow. Just a hint of colour and a hint of flavour.

Food Jihadist said...

Wow, I just learned so much. Thank you, I will be on the lookout for safflower in the future.

Anonymous said...

When are you going to post the recipe for Mufaraket Zahra

Kano said...

@Food Jihadist
I hope you find it in Egypt.

I already posted a recipe for Munazalet Zahra

Nisrine M. said...

Great to learn about safflower. I didn't know it was called osfor in Arabic.

It's nice to be back home and re-energize. Enjoy!

Victor E. Sasson said...

This is widely available in U.S. supermarkets. Two brand names I know are Goya (with MSG) and Badia (without MSG), the one I use.

Other names: annotto, achiote

Bijol is also know as "achiote" or "annotto" powder and it is used for coloring rice. It is used to replace the very expensive saffron in many recipes. Bijol does not really duplicate the saffron flavor, but it does have a unique flavor all its own that is unmistakable in Cuban dishes.

Anonymous said...


Je pensais que le cartham ne servait qu'aux teinturiers et qu'il était impropre à la consommation ?


kampachi said...

Do you have a recipe you would suggest for Fakhdeh فخدة?

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