11 Vanilla Extract Substitutes: Quick and Easy

Nothing is more underrated than that subtle hint of vanilla in your desserts, which is why you need good a good vanilla extract substitute for when you find yourself lacking exactly that. 

Vanilla has a sweet and mellow taste that pairs well with many other flavors. Even chocolate cake is enhanced by that wonderful vanilla flavor.

It’s no wonder that vanilla extract is such a major staple in every kitchen. The aroma of vanilla in cakes, pancakes, waffles, and cookies is comforting and nostalgic for bakers and pastry lovers alike. 

Since most recipes only call for a few teaspoons of vanilla extract, it’s easy to feel like the bottle will last forever. Sadly, that’s never the case. But there are still a variety of ways that you can achieve that nostalgic flavor without compromising on the quality of your recipe.

What is Vanilla Extract and what is it used for?

Real vanilla extract is made by placing aged vanilla pods in ethyl alcohol (such as Bourbon, Brandy, Vodka or Rum) and water to soak. This process slowly extracts the vanilla flavor from the beans over time. 

For this to work efficiently, the mixture must contain a minimum of 35% alcohol. There should also be a maximum of 9 ounces of vanilla beans used for every 8 ounces of high-proof alcohol.

The extraction process can take as little as 8 weeks when done commercially. However, it is a well-known fact that the vanilla flavor intensifies the longer the beans are left to soak (which can be upwards of 8 months in some cases!)Vanilla extract is used in countless recipes, from cakes and cookies to vanilla ice cream and cocktails. In fact, it’s even used in recipes that you would least expect, such as Fruity Pebbles Treats or Mini Birthday Cheesecakes

Vanilla Extract Substitutes

Let’s face it, if you run out of vanilla extract, it is unlikely that you will be willing to drive to the store to get some (or dedicate 8 weeks to make a homemade vanilla extract). When we’re in a pinch, we want substitutes that are quick and easy to use. 

So, let’s explore 11 vanilla extract replacements that we can incorporate into our recipe. Many you probably already have in your pantry.

1. Maple Syrup/Honey

Using maple syrup or honey can give your baked goods a rich, earthy, caramel-type flavor that can easily substitute for vanilla flavoring. Of course, since maple syrup and honey are naturally sweet, you will need to reduce sugars elsewhere in your recipe.

How to Use

For every 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract in your recipe, use an equal amount of maple syrup or honey.

2. Citrus Zest

Adding the zest of an orange, lemon, or lime to the recipe is a great way to liven up the flavor of your baked goods.

How to Use

Use ½  tablespoon of citrus zest for every 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract required for your recipe. This will allow you to add flavor to your baked goods without risking them tasting too tart.

instant coffee being used as a vanilla extract substitute

3. Coffee

If your baked goods incorporate strong chocolate flavors, using espresso powder or instant coffee is your next best bet. Coffee flavors can greatly enhance your recipe without the need for vanilla extract.

How to Use

Use 1 teaspoon of coffee/espresso powder for every 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in your recipe (that is, use a ratio of 1:1).

4. Vanilla Bean Seeds

If you have access to the whole vanilla bean pods at your local supermarket, then these are the next best thing to using vanilla extract in your recipes. The seeds inside the vanilla beans have a strong vanilla flavor that will significantly enhance the taste of your baked goods.

How to Use

Slice the pod along the long half with a sharp knife and use a spoon to scrape out the vanilla bean seeds. When adding the seeds to your recipe, remember that 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract is equal to 1 whole vanilla bean pod.

5. Vanilla Essence 

Vanilla essence is generally considered to have a milder flavor profile when compared to vanilla extract. However, the two can be used interchangeably in a recipe without any issues.

Vanilla essence is often referred to as ‘imitation vanilla’ or ‘artificial vanilla. It is produced commercially by refining inorganic materials such as petroleum. This process creates a synthetic vanilla flavor.

How to Use

Use 2 teaspoons of vanilla essence for every 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract in your recipe.

6. Vanilla Bean Paste

When bakers use vanilla bean paste to bake, their finished products get the rich flavor and the added texture of the vanilla seeds in their recipe. Vanilla bean paste incorporates both the vanilla bean extract and vanilla bean seeds into the mixture. It also has added sugar and thickeners to give it a sweet taste and molasses type consistency.

How to Use

Use 1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste for every 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract in your recipe (that is, use a ratio of 1:1).

7. Vanilla Powder

Vanilla powder is essentially dried vanilla bean pods that are crushed into powder form. This makes it a good substitute for vanilla extract.

How to Use

Use 1 tablespoon of vanilla powder for every 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract in your recipe (that is, use a ratio of 1:1). Since vanilla powder represents a dry ingredient, you may need to compensate by adding some extra liquid to the recipe.

8. Vanilla Milk

Vanilla almond milk or vanilla flavored soy milk are great alternatives to using vanilla extract in a recipe. However, they impart a much subtler flavor than vanilla extract, vanilla essence, vanilla bean paste, or even vanilla powder.

Alternatively, if you have whole vanilla bean pods and regular cow’s milk in your kitchen, you can choose to infuse the milk with vanilla flavor. To do this, simmer the vanilla bean pods in the cow’s milk on low heat until tiny bubbles begin to form. Turn off the heat and let the mixture cool before using as instructed below.

How to Use

Use 1 tablespoon of vanilla flavored milk for every 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract in your recipe.

picture of almond extract as a vanilla extract substitute

9. Almond Extract

Almond extract is quite underrated as a substitute for vanilla extract. It gives baked goods a sweet, nutty taste that pairs well with chocolate, cherry and even coffee flavors. Many consider almond extract to have a slightly stronger depth of flavor than vanilla extract. This means that when substituting it for vanilla extract, a little goes a long way!

How to Use

Use ½  tablespoon of almond extract for every 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract in your recipe.

10. Alcohol/Liquor

Since alcohol is used when making pure vanilla extract, adding alcohol to your recipe can also impart a flavor similar to vanilla extract. Some liquors (like bourbon) are aged in oak barrels, so the flavor and aroma of your baked goods can sometimes be strikingly similar to vanilla.

How to Use

Use 1 tablespoon of Bourbon, Brandy, Vodka or Rum for every 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract in your recipe (that is, use a ratio of 1:1).

11. Sweet Spices

If vanilla is not a major component in your recipe, then you should consider substituting it with other sweet spices in your kitchen. For example, cinnamon, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, and cardamom can add new dimensions of flavor to your baked goods. If you are looking for warm, rich flavors to enhance your baked goods, adding sweet spices will do the job just as efficiently as vanilla extract.

How to Use

Use ½  tablespoon of your spice of choice for every 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract required for your recipe.

Recipes Using Vanilla Extract (or vanilla extract substitute)

Have a craving for some good baked goods? Here are a few of our favorite recipes using vanilla extract or a vanilla extract substitute.

Fruity Pebbles Treats

Peppermint Mocha Fudge

Olive Garden Lemon Cream Cake

Sweet Potato Pie

Mini Birthday Cheesecakes

Peanut Butter Blossoms

French Apple Tart

vanilla extra substitutes - pinterest pin

Have questions or suggestions about vanilla extract substitutes? Leave them in the comments below. Until next time: Stay salty, and sweet 😉

Leave a Comment