Out of vanilla extract? No problem – these vanilla extract substitutes are here to save the day!
They’re easy to use and just as tasty as the real deal.
Vanilla extract is a much-loved ingredient for so many reasons:
- It’s incredibly versatile.
- It enhances the flavor of everything it touches – even chocolate!
- It’s great for baking and drinks.
- The sweet warmth is second to none.
But what do you do when you run out?
Well, you don’t reach for vanilla essence. That stuff is synthetic and has a very chemical taste.
Instead, try one of these tasty alternatives.
Some will give you the same sweetness, while others are total flavor swaps. So they won’t all work in every recipe.
But before we can find the right substitute, let’s answer the obvious question…
What Is Vanilla Extract?
Vanilla extract is a popular flavoring ingredient made from vanilla beans.
To make it:
- Vanilla beans steep in alcohol and water. This extracts the rich and aromatic compounds in the beans.
- The alcohol acts as a solvent. It breaks down the flavor compounds and allows them to infuse into the liquid.
- The liquid is left to infuse. The resulting extract has a strong, sweet, and distinct vanilla flavor.
The alcohol used is often neutral tasting, like vodka. And you can easily make your own vanilla extract at home.
I have a recipe for that at the end of the post!
Pure vs. Imitation Vanilla
Pure vanilla extract comes from real vanilla beans, soaked in alcohol and water. It takes time to make it, but it is so worth it.
It has a rich and authentic flavor and a more potent aroma. Professional bakers and chefs use it when they don’t have paste or real vanilla pods.
Imitation vanilla (vanilla flavoring or vanilla essence) is the synthetic version.
And as mentioned, it’s made using artificial flavorings (chemicals). It may be less expensive than pure vanilla extract, but the flavor just isn’t the same.
Vanilla Extract Substitutes
1. Vanilla Bean Paste
Looking for a fantastic substitute for vanilla extract? You can’t beat vanilla bean paste!
It has a delicious and complex depth of flavor. And since it’s made with vanilla extract and vanilla beans, it’s got the most robust flavor of them all.
This stuff is super concentrated, so you’ll taste and smell it while your recipe bakes.
Better yet, it’s got those stunning black flecks which you’ll see in light bakes and creamy desserts.
How to Substitute: Swap 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract for 1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste.
2. Vanilla Powder
Vanilla powder is an excellent substitute for vanilla extract because it’s kind of the same thing but in a powdered form.
It has a concentrated flavor and a long shelf life. And it works well in most recipes – especially anything light/pale.
I love the dark flecks of vanilla, but if you don’t want them, this is the best choice.
This powdery substitute comes from ground vanilla beans. So, it keeps the rich and aromatic qualities of natural vanilla.
With its intense flavor, vanilla powder works well in dry mixes. But you may need to reduce the flour so it’s not too dry.
How to Substitute: Swap 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract for 1 tablespoon of vanilla powder.
Also, remove 1 tablespoon of flour from the recipe.
3. Bourbon (Brandy, Rum, or Vanilla Liqueur)
Bourbon is my top choice for a vanilla extract substitute because its flavor is unmatched.
There’s plenty of warmth and a ton of vanilla-infused sweetness.
That said, brandy, rum, or vanilla liqueur are all excellent substitutes for vanilla extract, too.
Vanilla extract is like 35% alcohol, after all. So, using these spirits makes sense.
Their warm and mellow notes add depth and complexity to recipes. And you can add them to cakes, cookies, and custards just like you would vanilla.
Of course, you’ll notice a slight flavor change – especially with brandy. But in most recipes, you won’t taste it.
How to Substitute: Swap 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract for 2 tablespoons of bourbon, brandy, rum, or vanilla liqueur.
Note: The booze will cook off in your bakes. But in uncooked recipes, like frosting, it’ll still be present.
However, that’s the case when using vanilla extract, too, so it shouldn’t be an issue.
4. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is a suitable substitute for vanilla extract because it’s sweet and flavorful.
But it has to be REAL maple syrup. Not the imitation stuff.
It doesn’t taste the same as vanilla, but its rich and caramelized notes complement many recipes.
Maple syrup works well in baked goods like pancakes, waffles, and cookies. It is also pretty delicious in oatmeal!
Just remember to reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe to account for its extra sweetness. Take out 1 tablespoon, and it should be about even.
How to Substitute: Swap 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract for 1 tablespoon of maple syrup.
5. Almond Extract
Almond extract has similar aromatic qualities as vanilla. And the deliciously distinct, nutty flavor makes it a fabulous alternative!
It makes everything taste more decadent, especially baked goods. The smell alone is enough to get your mouth watering.
Sometimes, I prefer it over vanilla, like in cookies and cakes. But it’s not ideal for uncooked dishes (like frosting), in my opinion. It’s far too strong for that.
In fact, it’s so strong, I recommend starting with half the amount and tasting the recipe. Too much almond and it will taste quite bitter.
How to Substitute: Swap 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract for 1/2 tablespoon of almond extract. Add more as needed.
6. Espresso Powder or Instant Coffee
The rich, robust flavors of espresso and instant coffee make them delicious vanilla extract substitutes.
But, obviously, they only work in specific recipes as flavor enhancers.
For example, coffee and chocolate are a match made in flavor heaven. Rich and lightly bitter meets deep, dark, and sweet, and the pair just work.
But while espresso powder draws out the sweetness in chocolate cakes and brownies, it won’t bring the sweet warmth of vanilla in paler bakes.
Still, it’s a fun swap if you like the flavor of coffee.
How to Substitute: Swap 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract with 3/4 teaspoon of espresso powder.
Honey can serve as a delightful substitute for vanilla extract – in certain recipes.
It adds a rich yet distinctive taste that complements baked goods, sauces, oatmeal, pancakes, and more.
I find it pairs well in lemon cakes and plain cookies, but not as well in chocolate recipes.
Honey also adds moisture and subtle floral notes. So the bakes will be tender yet noticeably honey-flavored.
That said, it is a great option for uncooked recipes, like whipped cream. It should mix in very easily and sweeten anything it touches.
How to Substitute: Swap 1 tablespoon of vanilla with 2 tablespoons of honey.
How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract
I didn’t add this to the list because it’s not exactly convenient when you need a substitute right away.
But if you bake a lot, I highly recommend making your own vanilla extract.
It’s much cheaper overall, and it lasts a long time. Better yet, you’ll get the best vanilla flavor with no additives!
And it couldn’t be easier!
I like a mix of vodka and bourbon because it’ll give you that yummy caramel taste from the bourbon, but it won’t be too overpowering.
But you can easily use just vodka or bourbon (or even rum).
- 6-10 Vanilla Beans
- 1 cup Vodka
- 1 cup Bourbon
- Carefully slice the vanilla beans in half lengthwise. This exposes the seeds inside for maximum flavor.
- Put the sliced beans into a glass jar with a sealable lid. You want the lid to be secure as you’ll shake the mix later on.
- Pour the alcohol over the top. It should completely cover the beans.
- Secure the lid and shake. This will loosen some of the seeds and start the infusion.
- Store in a cool, dry place for 8 weeks. Shake once a week.
Can’t decide which alcohol to try? Why not all three?
Just be sure to get decent-quality vodka, rum, or bourbon. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but you’ll taste the difference.
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