10 Best Vanilla Extract Substitutes When You’re in a Pinch

We’re not shy about vanilla extract around here—we know just how good a glug will do when added to any sweet recipe! But what happens if you’re in the middle of baking your favorite cookies and realize that you’re out of vanilla? Don’t worry—while the flavor of vanilla is one of a kind, there are some other ingredients you can use as a vanilla extract substitute in a pinch.

Vanilla extract is kind of an amazing product. It’s made from vanilla beans or pods, which grow off certain species of orchids. The pods are picked when they’re green and then dried for up to six months. At this point, the beans get that familiar long shape and dark, wrinkly skin. Vanilla extract is then made when the pods are steeped in a mixture of water and alcohol to preserve their warm, sweet flavor. You can actually make your own extract at home with Ree Drummond’s formula: Fill a quart-size mason jar with about 16 vanilla beans, then fill the jar with brandy, and let it sit for about a month. This won’t save you in a pinch, but it’s a fun project and a great DIY gift idea!

So, if you’re out of extract and you can’t wait a month to make your own, what do you do? The good news is that vanilla flavoring comes in lots of different forms nowadays, and there are many other ways to flavor recipes. Find some of the best vanilla extract substitutes here, then try them in desserts like Ree’s Favorite Sugar Cookies, Cookies ’n’ Creme Cupcakes, and Pumpkin Spice Muffins.

Pick a vanilla bean substitute from this list the next time you realize you don’t have vanilla beans while baking! Some of these options are a close flavor match to vanilla beans, while some are easy alternatives that may already be in your pantry! Your sweets, treats, and baked goods will turn out delicious no matter which you choose!

Did you know that vanilla beans are a fruit? Moreover, the fruit of an orchid plant?! These long brown pods are produced by vanilla orchids. Vanilla orchids are grown in tropical climates like Tahiti, Indonesia, and Mexico.

Vanilla beans are used to make vanilla extract (your first vanilla bean substitute!). However, they can also be used on their own to add a truly rich and distinctive vanilla flavor to recipes.

In contrast to its by-product vanilla extract, vanilla beans are quite expensive. Therefore, they are not common to have on hand.

Whether you don’t have vanilla beans on hand or simply don’t want to spend the money on them you can still get a wonderful flavor with a substitute. Keep reading to see what substitutes you may already have at home and which ones will be best for your recipe.

Pure vanilla extract is made from vanilla beans. You can easily make your own extract at home if you have vanilla beans. However, this process takes at least two months to complete.

Due to the quality of ingredients and the time needed to produce the extract vanilla extract is the more expensive of the substitute options. It is the best option though.

Pure vanilla extract will lend the closest real vanilla flavor to any recipe. It is also an easy substitution since each extract tablespoon is equal to one vanilla bean pod.

Another great thing about this choice is that it is easy to punch up the vanilla flavor if you’d like. Simply use 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract in place of 1 vanilla bean pod. This will ensure a distinct and rich vanilla flavor. Especially in baked goods, where some of the vanilla flavor can dimmish while cooking.

One thing to keep in mind is that any extract is going to be a different consistency than a vanilla bean pod. Therefore, it may add a small amount of liquid to your recipe. If you are concerned about this impacting the texture of your recipe, simply reduce your other liquids by a small amount.

Many amateur and professional cooks bolster their creations with spices that enhance flavor. Vanilla is one of the most popular spices, but sometimes factors such as price or convenience may prevent an individual from using pure vanilla. In these cases, a number of substitution options exist, from artificial alternatives to similar spices. Closely related sweets like almond extract and maple syrup may complement some recipes. Liquor-based offerings such as rum or brandy provide another substitution option.

Vanilla is a spice made from vanilla orchid plants. The spice has become such a fixture in recipes — particularly sweet recipes — because it produces a sweet but unobtrusive flavor. As such, it blends seamlessly with many types of ingredients.

Dried vanilla beans.

Perhaps the most often used form of vanilla in cooking is vanilla extract. This liquid is a combination of vanilla beans, water, and ethyl alcohol. The closest vanilla substitute one will find to vanilla extract is the vanilla bean itself. This is the pure form of vanilla and thus will retain the most intense flavor. Any other products with vanilla as a base — like vanilla sugar or vanilla paste — can mimic many of the properties of vanilla extract.

Lemon, coconut, and anise extracts can only be substituted for vanilla in cookies.

Certain substances may serve as a vanilla substitute provided they work well with the recipe at hand. Such substances possess a unique taste that may not mesh with other substances. In these cases, experimentation is best. Examples include Fiori di Sicilia, lemon juice, and almond extract. Some cooks even use tea.

A few forms of vanilla substitute provide a somewhat similar effect as vanilla, but may prove too sweet for certain palettes. Maple syrup, for example, may work well in recipes that typically feature a high amount of sweetness. Certain liquors like brandy or rum may also function well in a recipe if used in small amounts.

Maple syrup can be used as a substitute for vanilla in recipes that call for a high level of sweetness.

Certain liquors like rum or brandy may be used as vanilla substitutes.

Generally, one should use the same amount of a vanilla substitute as one would the traditional vanilla additive. For example, if a recipe suggests 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of vanilla extract, one would usually use 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of the substitute. Exceptions may be needed for stronger or flavor-variant substitutes, where slightly smaller amounts may be advisable.

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.

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.

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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:

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Baking has to be one of the most satisfying activities. After all, who does not like to have a sweet treat after a long and tiring day? Whether you are a professional baker or just a beginner, you must be aware of vanilla extract since it is the most commonly used ingredient for baking. Vanilla extract has a sweet flavour and aroma to it which enhances the taste of your bake. A few drops of vanilla extract have the power to take your desserts to the next level. However, have you wondered what can you use instead of vanilla extract in case you run out of it suddenly or it’s inaccessible to you? Well, you don’t need to worry. While vanilla extract may be the most popular one to be used in baking, there are extracts as well that you can use as a substitute for vanilla extract and they will give you the same delicious flavour and taste. Here are 5 substitutes to replace vanilla extract in your baking. (Images courtesy: Canva)

Orange extract

Zets of citrus fruits like orange work wonder as a replacement for vanilla extract. It adds a nice tangy flavor to your baking and helps to balance out the sweetness level of the recipe as well. If you are in the mood to add some strong flavor and want to improve the overall taste of your taste, the orange extract is an amazing option. Make sure to use only a few drops as you will not want your sweet dish to turn into a sour one.

Almond extract

Are you someone who loves to have that nutty flavor in their foods? Then get your hands on some almond extract and you will have a different flavored dessert ready for yourself. While vanilla extract adds a sweetness to the recipes, almond has a strong and rich taste to them. Once again be a bit cautious about the amount of almond extract as too much of it can make your bake bitter.

Rum extract

Adding alcohol to your baking does not seem a suitable idea, right? But hold on. You will be surprised to know that your good, old vanilla extract also contains alcohol. So, why not use rum instead of vanilla to give your bake a little bit of twist? Alcohol such as brandy, and bourbon also work great as a replacement for vanilla. These extracts do not alter the texture of the bake, so you can use them without worry. Chocolate cakes and choco chip muffins are some of the popular recipes that often use rum extracts or other alcohol extracts.

Rose extract

Adding rose to a recipe is certainly a delicacy. Many famous recipes use rose water to enhance the fragrance and flavor of the dish. This concentrated extract made out of rose petals has a strong scent to it which can instantly add some new touch to your recipe. Add some rose extract to cookies, brownies, or macarons, and savor your flavored bake.

Lemon extract

Lemon is a popular citrus fruit and we all know how a sprinkle of lemon juice can amplify the taste of any dish. Lemon extracts are not sour rather it has a distinct flavour and aroma to them. This citrus fruit is widely available and makes for a great alternative to vanilla extract. Make some lemon tarts, cupcakes, and pies or even use it in the frosting and get a flavoursome dessert.

It’s time to replace the all-time vanilla extract with these amazing substitutes. Use these extracts in your baking recipes to get some extra applause from your friends and family.

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If you’re looking for a substitute for vanilla extract, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will show you how to make your own using common kitchen ingredients.

Table of Contents

  • Substituting Vanilla
  • Substitutes For Vanilla Extract

Substituting Vanilla

Many reasons can make someone need a vanilla extract substitute. They may run out of vanilla extract while baking, or simply enjoy experimenting using other ingredients.

Some pastry chefs prefer to use alcohol-free vanilla alternatives because they produce a distinct flavor profile than products with alcohol.

This is a good option for making light-colored cakes or frostings. In particular, brown batters can take on a vanilla flavor if they are flavored with regular vanilla extract.

There are many types of vanilla extracts that are non-alcoholic, including oils and powders.

Imitation vs. Pure Vanilla

Imitation vanilla extract can be less expensive and tastes better than pure vanilla extract. Although pure vanilla extract is more flavorful than imitation, it can be quite expensive.

Manufacturers claim imitation vanilla contains vanillin, synthetic ingredients, sweeteners, artificial colors, and preservatives. Pure vanilla extract can be made from water, alcohol, and sugar. It may also contain other ingredients.

Vanilla extract is an essential flavoring agent in many desserts. However, there are many substitutes that can be used, depending on the recipe. While some substitutes may be more suitable for certain recipes than others, it is important to experiment to find the best option for each dish. Click To Tweet

Vanilla extract is extracted from the pods of the tropical vanilla orchid. Vanilla is a tiny, black, flavorful ingredient in the pods that give the liquid flavoring its deep, rich flavor. Vanilla extract is a vital ingredient in many desserts and baked goods for it imparts a subtly sweet and delicious flavor that enhances the flavors of other ingredients.

There are many reasons to search for a substitute for vanilla extract. They may be out of vanilla extract, want a substitute for vanilla flavor, or just want an alcohol-free option. According to FDA regulations, vanilla extract cannot contain more than 35% alcohol and must only be made from vanilla beans.

Vanilla extract and its substitutes can have a strong flavor so make sure to use the right amount. You should be aware that concentration levels can vary between homemade products.

Vanilla Paste

Vanilla paste is a mixture made from vanilla extract, sugar, and chopped-up pieces. It has a strong taste and smooth texture. It has black flecks that are from vanilla beans.

Vanilla paste manufacturers claim that paste can be used to replace extract in a ratio of 1:1.

Vanilla Powder

Vanilla powder is a light-colored, finely ground powder made from whole vanilla beans.

It has a stronger flavor than extract and can be used in frostings, cakes, or any other recipe that requires extract.

The vanilla powder can also be used in recipes that have been cooked at high temperatures without losing any of its flavors. The vanilla powder can be used to sweeten cereals and oatmeal.

For the substitution of the two ingredients, it is recommended to use a 1:1 ratio of vanilla extract to vanilla powder

Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla sugar is sugar that has had vanilla beans infused into it. It is not easy to find it in the United States, but it is quite common in Europe.

Vanilla sugar can be used to replace regular sugar in baking. Vanilla sugar doesn’t need any extra extract because it already has the natural vanilla flavor.

It can be used to add sweetness and vanilla flavor to cakes, pies, and cookies.

Almond extract is stronger than vanilla and can be used in certain desserts. Too much almond extract can cause bitter taste.

Almond extract is used in cookies, pound cakes, french toast, and other recipes.

Almond extract has a strong flavor so people need to be cautious when using it.

Maple Syrup

Pure maple syrup is a sweet and rich alternative to vanilla extract in baked goods due to its sweet, rich taste. Maple syrup has moisture and binding qualities.

Maple syrup can be used in individual recipes, depending on the taste. However, it has a different flavor to vanilla extract.


Honey is a sweetener with a bright, floral taste. It can be used in desserts as a sweetener to improve the texture and sweetness, just like maple syrup.

You can sweeten your dessert by replacing 1 teaspoon vanilla extract with 1 cup honey.

Bourbon, Brandy, Rum, or Vanilla Liquor

Vanilla extract can also be used in spirits like brandy, vanilla liquor, and rum.

You can substitute 1 tsp vanilla essence for 2 tsp alcohol. These ingredients should not ever be used in recipes for children, pregnant women, or those with an allergy to alcohol.

While most of the alcohol will go to waste when heated, some can be preserved in non-bake or minimally baked dishes.

Vanilla-Flavored Plant-Based Milk

Vanilla-flavored almond, soy, or oat milk can be substituted for vanilla extract, but the flavor is subtler.

1 tsp vanilla extract to 1 teaspoon milk

A Final Thought

If they are looking for a particular flavor or texture, some people may opt to substitute vanilla extract. Some people may prefer an alcohol-free alternative.

It is crucial that you use the right substitution amounts and that the substitution is appropriate for the recipe. You can experiment with different ratios and combinations.

About the author

Taylor Munsell

Taylor resides in the mountains of Asheville, NC spending her time listening to her husband talk about plants and chasing her daughters and dogs to see what they’re trying to eat now. She’s a blogger by day and fiction writer by night. Words (and food) are her lifeblood. When not writing, Taylor can be found cooking, reading, eating way too much cheese, and trying to fit more gadgets in her kitchen.

We’ve all been there. It’s the weekend, you’ve had a lazy morning and you spontaneously decide to do some baking. However, upon looking up the recipe, it requires an ingredient that you don’t have.

Take a Look ↓↓↓

Vanilla extract is one of those essential ingredients, not just for baking but in many different types of recipes. The sweet, pure taste of vanilla is even used in many chocolate recipes.

And when it comes to baking, the taste of many of our favorite cakes just isn’t the same without it. And when caramelizing fruits and veggies, vanilla extract will boost their flavor.

You can also use vanilla extract for other things aside from cooking, such as hair care, skin care, removing odors, air freshener, and creating perfume. Some people even use vanilla extract to make some of their favorite cocktails.

Vanilla extract is a solution made by macerating and percolating vanilla pods in a solution of ethanol and water and is a kitchen essential if you’re a big baker!

As a food flavor, vanilla is commonly available in different forms, such as extract, paste, powder, and essence.

However, if you don’t have vanilla extract in your pantry, don’t panic because we’ve got you covered.

Did you know that you might have other ingredients in your store cupboard that will work just as well? Although, people new to baking might be wondering, what are the best substitutes for vanilla extract?

Let’s break it down.

Maple syrup is a common household ingredient and is also an excellent substitute for vanilla extract.

Maple syrup is a syrup typically made from the xylem sap of sugar maple, red maple, or black maple trees, however, it can also be made from other maple species.

If you’re a big fan of pancakes for breakfast or brunch, you’re bound to have this ingredient at your disposal!

While you’re preparing the recipe, you’ll want to make sure that you use slightly less sugar than the recipe recommends, as maple syrup is incredibly sweet in flavor.

You may also use maple extract instead of the syrup. For a tablespoon of vanilla extract, use half a tablespoon of maple extract.

Vanilla essence is also a great alternative for vanilla extract. Unlike the natural vanilla extract derived from the vanilla plant, vanilla essence is made of synthetic compounds.

Vanilla essence is a manufactured liquid that tastes similar to vanilla but contains little or no real vanillin.

Imitation vanilla is typically derived from crude oil. Both naturally derived essences and synthetic flavors generally require additional additives, such as artificial coloring, sweeteners, and preservatives to make them look similar, smell similar and enable them to be used as real vanilla.

The result of these synthetic creations is usually thinner, lighter in color, and a less complex flavor profile than real vanilla extract will provide.

Generally speaking, vanilla extract has a much stronger flavor than vanilla essence, but that doesn’t mean it won’t help you achieve the same flavor.

If the recipe recommends one teaspoon of extract, you should double it with two teaspoons of vanilla essence as a suitable substitute for the same flavor profile!

Almond is also an excellent substitute for vanilla extract that you can use.

Almond extract is significantly more potent than vanilla and has a strong pure, sweet flavor that goes very well with vanilla, cherry, chocolate, and coffee flavors.

However, it will provide a similar flavor profile to vanilla extract if you use it sparingly, so be sure to not overdo it!

If you use too much almond extract you could risk making your bake on the bitter side, so use half the amount of vanilla extract required for the recipe.

If the recipe calls for a teaspoon of vanilla extract, use a half tablespoon of almond extract.

Vanilla powder is simply pure, unadulterated vanilla bean, and makes an excellent substitute for vanilla extract!

Since extracts generally use alcohol as carriers for the aroma, the high heat of the baking process evaporates the majority of the alcohol, as well as the bitter flavor along with it.

Vanilla powder, on the other hand, not only holds its own under the high heat of the oven but also lends so much flavor to any recipe that you’re baking.

A great benefit of using vanilla powder is that it doesn’t add any additional liquid to a recipe, which can occasionally alter a carefully balanced ratio for the worse.

After all, baking is a science! You need the measurements to be just right to ensure the perfect bake, which vanilla powder can help you with.

If you’re big coffee drinkers in your house, it is likely that you have an array of coffee syrups, of which vanilla syrup can act as a substitute for vanilla extract.

If you don’t have any vanilla syrup in your pantry to hand, you can make your own recipe easily enough.

To prepare the syrup, split a vanilla pod down the middle and remove the inside, being careful to scrape all of it out. You won’t want to waste any of the delicious flavor!

Secondly, you’ll want to make a syrup of water and sugar in a pan. This can be done by eye, or alternatively, you can look up a sugar syrup recipe if you require one (a simple rule of thumb for a recipe is two parts sugar, one part water).

Add the pod along with the inside of the vanilla pod to the syrup and simmer for around 15 to 20 minutes.

What you will be left with is a syrup that you can use for a bunch of different recipes, but most importantly, you can use this syrup as a substitute for vanilla extract!

Brandy, bourbon or rum

A lot of people aren’t aware of this, but there is actually alcohol in vanilla extract!

Most commonly vodka is used to make the extract, with vanilla beans being soaked in ethanol to extract its enticing flavor and aroma that we all know and love to put in our recipes.

Swapping in the same amount of a flavorful spirit such as brandy, bourbon, or rum makes a brilliant alternative to vanilla extract.

As long as your recipe is baked, the alcohol content will cook out leaving you with all of the delicious flavors without that bitter taste of ethanol that you don’t want.

What’s not to love about this boozy alternative?

In the same breath as the last substitute, vanilla liqueur is a great alternative to vanilla extract if you don’t mind the alcohol content.

Vanilla liqueur is often used in a lot of popular cocktails, such as a vanilla martini, so you might already have some in the house if you’re into your cocktails!

When using it in your recipe, simply substitute a teaspoon of vanilla extract with two teaspoons of liqueur and the alcohol will cook off in the oven as your recipe bakes.

Vanilla flavored milk

Vanilla flavored milk is also a great substitute for vanilla extract in baking. Simply use an equal amount of vanilla-flavored soy or almond milk to replace vanilla extract.

However, you must keep in mind that their flavor will not be as strong as the extract, and should be used accordingly.

If you haven’t got any store-bought vanilla milk, but do have a vanilla pod, you could try making your own at home.

To make homemade vanilla-flavored milk simply split a vanilla bean and remove the inside part. Place the milk of your choice in a pan, adding the pod along with the inside part that you have scraped out, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

This vanilla-flavored milk made with soy or almond milk is an excellent dairy alternative and can be used in a variety of recipes, and is delicious to drink in coffee!

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, provided that the vanilla extract isn’t a main ingredient, if you don’t have a suitable substitute for vanilla extract then you can opt to leave it out and continue on with the recipe as usual. Generally speaking, this shouldn’t alter the taste too much and your recipe will still be delicious.

Although vanilla extract is often not necessarily essential in terms of the structure of a baking recipe, it does enhance the flavor in a lot of different sweet recipes, including cakes, cookies, and cheesecakes. Without it, you might find that the fundamental components are there, but that there is something missing that you’ll be able to identify quite easily.

As a result, the question isn’t can you skip vanilla extract in a recipe, but instead should you skip vanilla extract in the recipe? However, if you’re in a bind without it, it won’t matter too much.

This will entirely depend on the recipe itself. If it’s a cake recipe with many other ingredients, then it may not matter as much if it was a cookie recipe with only a few ingredients. While the answer does depend on whether the vanilla extract is a star ingredient or not, you can bet that your bake will taste better with vanilla extract rather than without it if the recipe calls for it.

However, that being said the role of vanilla in sweet baked goods is similar to the role of salt in savory recipes, as it enhances all the other flavors in the recipe and makes everything taste all the more delicious. You could find that recipes made without vanilla extract, such as cookies and cakes tend to taste flat and bland as the vanilla isn’t in there to elevate the other ingredients.

There are many substitutes for vanilla extract out there, and vanilla flavored milk is a good one to know about if you’re in a bind. If you’re plant-based, then you will likely already know that there are a tonne of different plant-based milks on the market, such as soy and almond milk, that are vanilla flavored. You can use any milk that you desire provided that it is vanilla flavored.

Not only does vanilla-flavored milk compliment your morning coffee excellently, but it will also work to enhance the flavor of your bake if you find yourself without vanilla extract. That being said, the flavor won’t be as strong in comparison to good quality vanilla extract. However, vanilla-flavored milk can achieve similar results to vanilla extract and is well worth a try if you’re without it.

Next time you find yourself without an ingredient for a recipe, always make sure to look up substitutes that can be used. There is likely an alternative that can achieve the same flavor profile!

It is important to remember, however,  that a substitute that proves as the best alternative for a particular recipe, may not work as well for another recipe. If you’re looking for , there are many to choose from. That can be found in can also be found in

That being said, experiment and have fun with it, and choose the substitute according to the recipe that you’re preparing as it is not always a one size fits all type of situation.

These options are sure to be a hit. So, gather your family and friends and enjoy. Let us know your thoughts!

  • bourbon or rum
  • Vanilla flavored milk

Select your option.
Use in or with your favorite recipe.

Let us know how it was!

Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book “Healthy Eating Through the Garden” will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer’s markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.

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.

Of course, honey doesn’t taste much like vanilla, but a good honey will add a slight floral sweetness to baked goods in the same way that vanilla would. It’s a decent option if you want just a hint of flavor.

Miro Vrlik / EyeEm

Expert tips

  • 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.

What is the difference between vanilla extract and vanilla essence?

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.

Is vanilla extract necessary?

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.

Is maple syrup a good substitute for vanilla extract?

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.

Can I use vanilla essence as a substitute for vanilla extract in baking?

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.

What is the difference between pure vanilla extract and imitation 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.

How long does vanilla extract last?

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.

Can I make a gluten-free vanilla extract?

Yes! Just make sure to use certified gluten-free alcohol (most of them are gluten-free) and avoid artificial flavors.

Is there an alcohol-free version of homemade vanilla extract?

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.

Can I use my homemade vanilla extract sooner?

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.

How do I store my homemade vanilla extract?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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  • no flavor alcohol with 40% alcohol content
  • 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.

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.

Vanilla Bean Paste

Ree is obsessed with this stuff! It comes in a small jar and it’s sweet, thick, and packed with tiny little vanilla seeds. It’s probably the best alternative on the list, especially when vanilla is a prominent flavor in the recipe like vanilla buttercream frosting. Plus, those little flecks will really stand out! Use it as a one-for-one swap.

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.

Maple syrup doesn’t exactly taste like vanilla, but it’s warm and sweet, so it’s not a bad swap. Just don’t add too much or you’ll make your dish overly sweet, and it may mess up the recipe ratios.


When making a chocolate treat that calls for vanilla extract like Ree’s Best Chocolate Sheet Cake, consider substituting instant coffee, espresso powder, or a little strongly brewed coffee. The coffee flavor will enhance the chocolate and make it taste richer and even more chocolatey.

When To Opt For The Real Thing

While all of these alternatives are good for mimicking the flavor of vanilla beans, they will not replicate the appearance of vanilla beans. One of the distinct qualities of vanilla beans is the little black flecks. Think about your favorite vanilla bean ice cream.

If you are taking the time to make a decadent dessert that relies heavily on a bold vanilla flavor as well as the appearance of vanilla beans, then opt for the real thing. It will be worth the investment for a truly decadent and delicious dessert.

To lessen the cost, look online for vanilla beans. They are often less expensive online than at the grocery store. Moreover, you can buy them in bulk, so you always have some vanilla beans on hand.

More great substitute pages to help you out with all of your cooking and baking!

Choose any vanilla bean substitute from this list the next time you’re in a bind! Let us know what recipe you need a substitute for by leaving us a message in the comment section below!

Angela is an at home chef that developed a passion for all things cooking and baking at a young age in her Grandma’s kitchen. After many years in the food service industry, she now enjoys sharing all of her family favorite recipes and creating tasty dinner and amazing dessert recipes here at Bake It With Love!

Vanilla powder is the third most common type of flavoring derived from vanilla beans. This flavoring is made from dehydrated vanilla beans that have been finely ground to create a powder form.

While vanilla powder is not as commonly used in home kitchens for baking, it is a great choice for those who don’t like using alcohol-based extracts for recipes like custards or frosting. However, like vanilla bean paste this alternative typically has added sugar.

Therefore, make sure to check the ingredients listed on the package. If sugar has been added, leave out some of the sugar (or other sweeteners) that is in your recipe.

Since the flavor is more concentrated in powder form than the other options you will only need 2 teaspoons of vanilla powder to replace 1 vanilla bean.

Vanilla-Flavored Milk

Vanilla-flavored almond, soy, or coconut milk can often replace the milk in a recipe and add those vanilla notes you would otherwise be missing. If the recipe doesn’t call for milk, you can still add it in place of the extract, but the flavor will be very subtle.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

Like vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste is made directly from the vanilla bean. Therefore, it is another great choice for maintaining a natural and rich flavor of vanilla.

However, the process of making vanilla bean paste includes adding a binding ingredient to form the paste-like consistency. Typically, this is sugar or corn syrup that is mixed with vanilla bean scrapings. Therefore, your vanilla bean paste will be sweeter than regular vanilla beans.

To counteract the added sweetness of the paste, leave out some of the sweeteners that your recipe calls for.

While vanilla bean paste is not as common as vanilla extract in grocery stores it is easy to find in most specialty health food stores.

Use 1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste in place of 1 vanilla bean pod. You can add more to enrich the vanilla flavor, but make sure to decrease the other sweeteners even more.

You may have seen this powder as an add-in at your local coffee shop. Vanilla powder is just dried vanilla extract mixed with cornstarch, so its flavor is a little more mellow than the extract. You can use this as an even swap, though the vanilla flavor won’t be as pronounced.

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.

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.

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.

Vanilla Rum

Check your liquor cabinet: If you happen to have vanilla-flavored rum, it might just be the next best thing to extract. Use the same amount of rum as you would of vanilla extract.

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:

Many bourbons have a warm vanilla-like flavor. In fact, bourbon is often used to make vanilla extract. Try substituting it for vanilla in a recipe, one for one. You can also give brandy a try, too!

Though this won’t give you the flavor of vanilla, it will give your dessert some deliciously nutty notes, so you won’t miss the vanilla at all! Just remember to use a little—almond extract has a much stronger flavor than vanilla extract.

Vanilla sugar is essentially regular white granulated sugar that has been mixed with the ground-up vanilla bean. Like the other flavorings made from vanilla beans, it will have a real vanilla flavor.

As you can guess, it will be a much sweeter flavor than regular vanilla beans. To balance the added sweetness simply replace some of the sugar with vanilla sugar.

The exchange ratio for flavor is 1 to 2 teaspoons of vanilla sugar for 1 vanilla bean pod. However, you could increase that if you are replacing the regular sugar in your recipe with vanilla sugar.

For example, if your recipe calls for ¼ cup of granulated sugar, replace 1 tablespoon of that with 1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar. This will add a bolder vanilla flavor without adding unnecessary sweetness.

Almond extract is not going to taste like vanilla beans. However, almond extract has a beautiful and rich flavor that can shift the flavor of many recipes that call for vanilla beans.

If you have a recipe that is meant to be vanilla (such as vanilla ice cream or custard) then this alternative will not work. On the other hand, if you are making cookies or a cake that calls for vanilla beans and you want to explore a new flavor this is a great choice.

Almond extract is quite concentrated in flavor compared to other extracts. Therefore, begin by only using 1 to 2 teaspoons of almond extract for 1 vanilla bean pod. I suggest adding one teaspoon and tasting the batter then adding more if desired.

Pure Maple Syrup

Like almond extract, maple syrup is not going to lend a true vanilla flavor. Pure maple syrup has a warm and rich flavor though that is a lovely alternative for many vanilla-based desserts. For example, maple ice cream instead of vanilla bean ice cream can be just as delicious

The key here is to make sure you are using truly pure maple syrup. The kind that only lists maple syrup in the ingredient list (nothing artificial).

To experiment with a flavor swap of vanilla bean for maple start with 1 tablespoon of maple syrup for 1 vanilla bean pod. Since this is a naturally sweeter alternative you may want to leave out some of the extra sugar in your recipe.

While imitation vanilla extract may sound like a good alternative to vanilla beans it is the last one I would suggest. Imitation vanilla extract is made from imitation vanilla flavoring. It does not contain any real vanilla beans.

The taste of vanilla extract can work in small quantities, but when used in large quantities it can impact the flavor of your dessert negatively. You may notice the artificial flavoring more clearly. Unfortunately, to get anywhere near the potency of real vanilla beans you need to use quite a bit of imitation vanilla extract.

Since imitation vanilla extract is made with artificial flavoring the taste quickly cooks out when it encounters heat. Therefore, you must use twice as much as you would of a real extract (2 tablespoons of imitation vanilla extract for every tablespoon of pure vanilla extract).

If you only have access to imitation vanilla extract, you can use it in a pinch. I would suggest using it in cold recipes though (such as ice cream or custard). That way you can use a bit less since the flavor won’t cook out.

For cold recipes use 2 tablespoons of imitation vanilla extract to replace 1 vanilla bean pod. If baking your dish use 3-4 tablespoons of imitation vanilla extract for 1 vanilla bean pod.

Much like making vanilla extract yourself, infusing sugar with vanilla is done in advance. But if you have it on hand, simply substitute the regular white sugar in your recipe with vanilla sugar to get right amount of flavor.

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!


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!

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