If you've ever wondered what to use as a substitute for vanilla extract in your favorite dessert recipe, you've come to the right place. Vanilla extract is one of those ingredients that you want to have stored in your pantry for baking. With tons of flavor-enhancing properties packed in just one drop, it is a staple in baked goods and desserts that call for vanilla flavoring. However, you'll be glad to know that you have options in case it isn't available.
In this guide, I'll share with you several substitutes for vanilla extract (that taste just as great, if not better). I'll even share an easy DIY vanilla extract recipe so you can always have it ready in your pantry!
- What is Vanilla extract?
- What are the best substitutes for vanilla extract when baking?
- 1. Different forms of vanilla
- 1.1. Vanilla paste (also known as vanilla bean paste)
- 1.2. Vanilla powder
- 1.3. Vanilla sugar
- 2. Another vanilla-flavored ingredient
- 2.1. Vanilla-flavored liquor
- 2.2. Vanilla flavored milk
- 2.3. Vanilla ice cream
- 2.4. Vanilla-flavored syrup
- 2.5. Pandan Extract or Pandan Paste
- 2.6. Tonka Bean
- 2.7. Imitation Vanilla Extract
- 3. A different flavor altogether
- 3.1. Other flavoring extracts
- 3.2. Maple syrup, Honey
- 3.3. Cinnamon, Cardamom, or Nutmeg
- 3.4. Coffee or Espresso Powder
- 3.5. Citrus Zest
- The best homemade Vanilla extract recipe
- Expert tips
- Vanilla extract Substitute FAQS
- More baking guides
- Substitute for Vanilla Extract
What is Vanilla extract?
Vanilla extract is a popular ingredient in baked goods and desserts. Pure vanilla extract is an intense, aromatic liquid flavoring agent made from the pods of Vanilla planifolia, a tropical vanilla orchid. Its deep flavor, color, and aroma come from the black seeds in the pods, which are rich in vanillin. Just one tiny drop can drastically enhance the flavor of your favorite cakes, cookies, custards, and ice creams.
Pure vanilla extract (not to be confused with imitation vanilla extract) is made by washing and soaking vanilla beans in an alcohol and water solution. Over several months, the alcohol extracts the flavor and aroma of the beans into the solution, producing the vanilla extract. The more time it has to soak, the more intense the flavor.
What are the best substitutes for vanilla extract when baking?
There are many reasons why one may need a vanilla extract substitute when baking. That reason could be not having access to the pure extract, wanting an alcohol-free alternative, looking for a lower-priced alternative, or simply not being a big fan of the strong vanilla flavor.
The good news is there are many substitutes for vanilla extract; other forms of vanilla products eg. vanilla paste, vanilla sugar, vanilla powder, or other vanilla-flavored ingredients eg. vanilla-flavored liqueur, milk, and syrup to completely different ingredients altogether that will perfectly flavor your baked goods eg. citrus zest, spices, honey, maple syrup.
However, since vanilla has such a specific flavor (whether you use pure vanilla extract or a vanilla extract substitute), it is important to use the correct ratio to keep the same taste and result.
Here are several vanilla extract substitutes that you can use in baking that will taste just as good, if not better:
1. Different forms of vanilla
1.1. Vanilla paste (also known as vanilla bean paste)
Composed of vanilla extract, vanilla beans, and sugar, vanilla paste has an intense flavor and smooth consistency that make it an excellent substitute. Despite the name, vanilla paste has the consistency of syrup versus the thickness of a paste and it is the perfect vanilla extract substitute for strong vanilla flavor eg. Custard, or Creme brulee.
You can substitute vanilla paste at a 1:1 ratio. However, it contains specks of vanilla beans, so if there is a particular aesthetic you are going for, you may consider another alternative.
1.2. Vanilla powder
If the recipe calls for a light color, vanilla powder is a great substitute. It is also more concentrated and will not evaporate with high heat. Made with ground vanilla beans, vanilla powder is excellent for baking or blending into cereals, oatmeals, or hot drinks such as coffee and hot cocoa.
Unlike vanilla extract, vanilla powder has a light color and will not add a brown tint. You can substitute vanilla powder at a 1:1 ratio.
1.3. Vanilla sugar
More commonly found in Europe than in the United States, vanilla sugar is an infusion of sugar and vanilla beans. For recipes that call for sugar, it's an easy 1:1 replacement. In addition to replacing vanilla extract, you can sprinkle it on top of baked goods such as cookies, pies, and cakes for an extra vanilla touch. It is also the perfect vanilla extract substitute for French toast.
2. Another vanilla-flavored ingredient
If you don't have access to any pure vanilla substitutes such as vanilla paste, powder, or sugar, there is nothing wrong with using a vanilla-flavored ingredient in its place! Here are a few vanilla-flavored liquids and spices that you can use in its place:
2.1. Vanilla-flavored liquor
Since liquors such as vanilla-flavored vodka, bourbon, brandy, or rum have a similar taste to vanilla, you can use it as a substitute for vanilla extract. You should replace it at a 2:1 teaspoon ratio: For every teaspoon of vanilla extract, use two teaspoons of vanilla-flavored liquor.
An important thing to remember is that although you will cook off most of the alcohol content during the baking process, some may be retained. This is especially the case in products that aren't baked or that don't use high heat. Therefore, you should avoid this substitute when serving children, pregnant women, or those who wish to avoid alcohol.
2.2. Vanilla flavored milk
Vanilla-flavored plant-based milk such as almond, oat, or soy milk is an easy 1:1 replacement for vanilla extract. However, if your recipe requires a strong vanilla presence, there may be better substitutes as the flavor is not as pronounced. Vanilla flavored milk in place of vanilla extract can be a good idea when the recipe anyway contains milk eg. cakes and cupcakes.
2.3. Vanilla ice cream
Vanilla extract is already used to make vanilla ice cream, so it only makes sense that it can also be used as a substitute for vanilla extract! However, this substitute is best for other frozen dessert recipes such as milkshakes and floats, not for baking.
2.4. Vanilla-flavored syrup
For recipes where the wet-to-dry ratio isn't critical, you can use vanilla-flavored syrup (like the kind you use in coffee) as a substitute 1:1. However, depending on the recipe, you may also need to adjust the sweetener to give it the desired taste.
2.5. Pandan Extract or Pandan Paste
Known as the "Asian Vanilla", Pandan is more popular in the Asian region than it is anywhere else. However, its similarities make it an acceptable substitute for sweet dishes and desserts that call for vanilla extract. You should typically substitute Pandan extract or paste at a 1:1 ratio. However, since the flavor profile is slightly different from pure vanilla, it is best to start with smaller amounts and then increase based on your preferred taste.
2.6. Tonka Bean
If you live in a country where tonka beans are available, it is another excellent vanilla-flavored substitute. Tonka beans and vanilla beans have many similarities. However, it is important to note that the sale of Tonka Beans has been banned in the United States due to their link to liver problems when consumed in high concentrations. Yet, tonka bean is often used in fancy restaurants, and like with any spice, you are not supposed to consume loads of it.
If used - in small amounts - tonka bean can replace vanilla extract 1:1.
2.7. Imitation Vanilla Extract
If necessary, you can use imitation vanilla extract as a substitute for pure vanilla extract. However, you will need to use twice the amount to achieve a similar end flavor and this is my least favored substitution considering the taste.
3. A different flavor altogether
If vanilla isn't your preference or isn't the star of your recipe, you can easily swap out the vanilla extract for flavored extract, spices, or syrups.
3.1. Other flavoring extracts
You can easily swap the vanilla extract for peppermint, lemon, or almond extract. During the holidays, peppermint extract would make a great substitute for vanilla extract in cookies! Most of these extracts can be used 1:1 to replace vanilla extract.
3.2. Maple syrup, Honey
Pure maple syrup (not imitation syrup) or honey can be an excellent substitute for vanilla extract if you are not a big fan of vanilla flavor but still want to add some flavor to your baked good. Because of its consistency, it can also improve the moisture content of baked goods and help them bind together more easily.
I highly recommend using it as a substitute for vanilla extract in french toast and other breakfast foods. For each teaspoon of vanilla extract required, use one tablespoon of honey / maple syrup.
3.3. Cinnamon, Cardamom, or Nutmeg
If you use the vanilla extract in the recipe for reasons other than the flavor, you can easily replace it with different spices and powders such as cinnamon, cardamom, or nutmeg. Since the essence of these spices can be pretty intense, just a pinch is usually sufficient!
3.4. Coffee or Espresso Powder
If baking a chocolate flavored-dessert, coffee is an excellent, flavor-enhancing substitute. It is an especially delicious substitute for vanilla extract in brownies and chocolate cakes. Just a pinch or two is all you need!
3.5. Citrus Zest
For a flavorful addition to your favorite baked dessert, citrus zest (such as lemon, lime, or orange) can be an excellent alternative to vanilla extract. It also will not change the moisture content of your batter or dough. Citrus zest is a wonderful substitute for vanilla extract in cakes.
The best homemade Vanilla extract recipe
With only two ingredients required, making homemade vanilla extract is super easy. I can be the best homemade culinary present and wonderful weekend project on its own. The hardest part is waiting for it to be ready to use!
Homemade vanilla extract requires infusing vanilla beans with alcohol over several months. The longer you infuse the beans, the better it will taste. However, when it's all said and done, you'll have a flavorful and fragrant extract to use in all your favorite baked recipes.
- Whole Vanilla Beans - You will want to use high quality vanilla beans eg. Madagascar to prepare your homemade vanilla extract. Use 5 beans per 250 ml / 1 cup vodka
- Vodka - An 80-proof vodka (that has 40% alcohol) is necessary to infuse the vanilla beans properly. Vodka is the best since it is almost a no flavor alcohol but you can also use bourbon, brandy, or rum as long as it has the same alcohol content.
How to make DYI Vanilla extract?
- Slit the vanilla beans down the middle with a sharp knife until you fully expose beans. It isn't necessary to completely cut them in half.
- Place the vanilla beans in your jar or bottle. You can cut the beans into smaller pieces if they do not fit.
- Using a funnel, pour your vodka on top of the beans until you fully submerge the beans.
- Gently shake the bottle or jar a few times to ensure that you soak all of the beans.
- Seal the bottle or jar and place vanilla extract away from direct sunlight at room temperature for 6-12+ months. Give it a shake every 1-2 weeks.
- After a week or two the liquid will get darker and darker and start to develop some flavor
This homemade vanilla extract can be used after a few weeks but the longer it infuse, the better it will taste.
When using the homemade vanilla extract, use the same amount as if it were store-bought.
- For cleanliness and the best outcome, clean and sterilize your bottle or jar before you use it.
- Cut the vanilla beans into smaller pieces if they don't fit into your bottle or jar.
- Avoid using flavored alcohol to infuse the vanilla beans, as it will no longer result in a pure vanilla extract.
- Make sure to keep the vanilla beans fully submerged in alcohol at all times. Otherwise, they will become slimy. You can refill the bottle with a little more alcohol after each use.
- Always shake the bottle before and after each use to get the most vanilla flavor.
Vanilla extract Substitute FAQS
Pure vanilla extract uses real vanilla beans to create a natural vanillin product, whereas vanilla essence is a manufactured product with little to no real vanillin.
Vanilla extract is probably one of the most often used flavorings in baked goods such as cakes, muffins, cookies and bring a wonderfully aromatic flavor profile to any baked goods. Cookies, cupcakes etc. made without vanilla extract might taste a bit blend but there are many great alternatives to use instead of vanilla extract that can bring delicious flavors too.
While maple syrup won´t deliver on the vanilla flavor as such, it can be a great substation for breakfast waffles, muffins and pancakes to bring some warm flavor.
Essentially, yes, you can substitute vanilla extract with vanilla essence. However, I do not recommend it. While vanilla essence will not affect the structure of your baked product, it will significantly affect the flavor since it does not have as much flavor or aroma as pure vanilla extract.
The main difference between the two is in how it is made. The other difference is in the imitation vanilla flavor. To be considered "pure" vanilla extract, it must be made using real vanilla beans, vodka, and water. On the other hand, imitation vanilla extract can add additional "imitation" flavors (such as synthetic vanillin) to achieve the vanilla flavor. Since pure vanilla extract contains real vanilla beans, it has a higher price point than imitation vanilla extract.
Because pure vanilla extract is made with alcohol, it typically does not expire. However, it also depends on how you store it. The extract will last indefinitely if you completely remove the beans from the jar or bottle. If you keep the beans in the bottle and do not use the extract, it will last several years as long as the beans are kept fully submerged. However, if you keep the beans in a bottle and refill it with fresh alcohol after each use, you will eventually need to replace the beans to keep the strong vanilla flavor and aroma.
Yes! Just make sure to use certified gluten-free alcohol (most of them are gluten-free) and avoid artificial flavors.
According to FDA regulations, it must contain at least 35% alcohol to be considered a pure vanilla extract. However, you can replace the liquor with three parts vegetable glycerin and one part water, it will be more like vanilla bean paste, than extract.
You can use your homemade vanilla extract as early as eight weeks. However, it is best to wait at least six months for the best flavor.
Store your vanilla extract at room temperature in an airtight glass jar or bottle out of direct sunlight. Shake it every week or two to get the most out of the vanilla flavor.
Pure vanilla extract is the best way to add vanilla flavor and aroma to baked goods and frostings. However, if you ever find yourself asking "Is vanilla extract necessary?", you'll be glad to know there are numerous substitutes.
With some alternatives, you won't even know the difference. Others may leave you with a better custom flavor than the original recipe. Some may not leave you with exact results, but they are acceptable replacements. But when you use my recipe to create your own vanilla extract, you'll have a flavorful staple pantry ingredient on hand for years to come!
More baking guides
Substitute for Vanilla Extract
- 250 ml Vodka no flavor alcohol with 40% alcohol content
- 4-5 whole vanilla beans eg. Madagascar vanilla beans
US customary cup measurement is an indicative figure only. Measure the ingredients with a digital scale by weight (gram). Baking is art but also science which requires precision and accuracy.
- Slit the vanilla beans down the middle then place them into your jar
- Using a funnel, pour the vodka on top of the beans until vanilla beans are fully covered. Gently shake the bottle or jar a few times to ensure that you soak all of the beans.
- Seal the bottle or jar and place vanilla extract away from direct sunlight at room temperature for 6-12+ months. Give it a shake every 1-2 weeks.
- After a week or two the liquid will get darker and darker and start to develop some flavor. You can use your homamde vanilla extract after a few weeks but the flavor will get much stronger and the liquid will get much darker after many months.
- Refill the bottle with a little more alcohol after each use.
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