How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract [Recipe]

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Your vanilla sugar will be wet and clumpy after adding the extract, so you’ll want to spread the sugar on a piece of parchment paper and let it dry for 20-30 minutes.

Once the vanilla extract sugar has dried, it will be clumpy and crunchy. Use a fork to break up the clumps or pulse it in a food processor or a clean coffee grinder to smooth it out. Then pour the vanilla sugar in a shaker jar or a glass jar with a good lid.

2 – How to Make Vanilla Sugar with Vanilla Bean Paste

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Vanilla sugar is a German baking staple. Well, probably a European baking staple, because I’ve seen it all over Europe. It’s super easy to make at home, and I highly recommend giving it a try.

I make a jar of vanilla sugar every fall and use it throughout the year. Vanilla sugar makes a lovely gift, too! In this article I show you how you can make vanilla sugar using vanilla beans, vanilla paste, and vanilla extract.

In this article I’m going show you different ways you can make homemade vanilla sugar. I’ve tried various methods and I now know what works and what doesn’t work as well. I definitely have a favorite method! If you want to get right to my vanilla sugar recipe, scroll aaaaalll the way down. If you want to read about my vanilla sugar experiments, keep reading!

A Guide to Buying and Using Vanilla Powder

You’re familiar with vanilla extract, but what about vanilla powder? Made from vanilla beans, vanilla powder has a more intense vanilla flavor than vanilla extract and can be used not only in baking recipes but as a natural sweetener.

The purest form of vanilla powder comes from vanilla beans. The beans are dehydrated and finely ground. But you’ll also find another type of vanilla powder on the market, where sugar is added. This type, called vanilla sugar, is popular in France and Mexico and used as a substitute for regular sugar in some recipes.

How To Cook With Vanilla Powder

Most recipes call for a teaspoon or less of vanilla powder. Pure vanilla powder made from vanilla beans can be sprinkled on baked goods like chocolate chip cookies, doughnuts, or toast for sweet, fragrant flavor. Add it to coffee, or use it to infuse your homemade pancake or waffle mixes.

Vanilla powder is a great alternative to vanilla extract when it comes to baked goods that can’t handle additional liquid, or using high-heat methods.

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What Does It Taste Like?

Pure vanilla powder made from vanilla beans has an intense sweet, rich, vanilla flavor and aroma. Vanilla powder made with sugar has a sweeter slightly milder flavor.

Vanilla Powder Substitute

Pure vanilla extract is the easiest substitute for vanilla powder. It’s more commonly available, but because vanilla powder has a more concentrated flavor use 1 teaspoon of extract to every ½ teaspoon of powder.

You can also substitute vanilla bean paste or vanilla beans, although they aren’t as common as the extract. Use 1 teaspoon of the paste to replace ½ teaspoon of powder or 1 bean to replace ½ teaspoon of powder.

Vanilla Powder Recipes

Use vanilla powder in recipes that call for powder or extract (using the substitutions above).

Where to Buy Vanilla Powder

Real vanilla is expensive, and so is vanilla powder. On average expect to pay $10 or more per ounce. It can also be hard to find. Some specialty food stores and larger grocery stores will carry it, and it’s also widely available online. If you regularly use vanilla beans, you can make your own vanilla powder. Simply save the bean pods, dehydrate them (you can do this in your oven if you don’t have a dehydrator) and grind them up in a very clean coffee grinder to avoid transferring odors.

Vanilla powder will last for up for two years in cool, dry place, out of light.

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:

[Recipe] Steps for Homemade Vanilla Extract

Yield: 8 fl oz of homemade vanilla extract. Use the table provided above for information on the proper amount of beans to choose if you are scaling your recipe up or down.

  • Preparation:  Using a paring knife, split each vanilla bean in half down the length of the bean to expose inner pulp. No need to scrape out the pulp. Depending on the size of your jar and amount of alcohol, chop the beans to ensure that the entire bean pod will be submerged under the liquid.  If you are using a mason jar, chopping the beans 2″-3″ long (5cm-7cm) so they lay flat on the bottom of the jar is recommended.
  • Combine:  In a clean glass jar, combine 6 vanilla beans with 4 fl oz (118ml) of 200 proof ethanol and 4 fl oz (118ml) of water.  If measuring by weight, combine 24 grams of vanilla beans with 93 grams 200 proof ethanol and 118 grams of water.
  • Agitate:  Seal jar with lid and shake briefly to ensure total coverage of alcohol-water solution across all vanilla beans.
  • Done:  After 14 days, this vanilla extract is finished.  Flavor and depth will continue to develop up 30 days.  No need to strain the beans from the extract.

Vanillin – an important ingredient for industry

As you can easily see, Vanilin has many uses in industry. Its intense aroma and flavor are used by manufacturers not only in the food industry. Since it is cheaper to produce than ordinary vanilla, its importance and use has increased worldwide in recent years.

It is also worth mentioning that Vanillin is not harmful to health. Like most substances, in the right dose it does not cause any adverse effects.

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.

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.

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.

Equipment Needed For Making Vanilla Extract

  • Glass “mason-style” jar with new lid
  • Paring Knife
  • Cutting Board

Equipment Notes

Any glass jar will do, including a bottle with a cap that closes tightly.  Ensure your glass is clean with a rinse of hot water before infusing, no need to sanitize or disinfect the surfaces.  Reusing glass jars or bottles is ok, so long as they can be cleaned properly to ensure no crossing of flavors from previous contents.  If reusing a bottle that contained some other product, say hot sauce for example, please pay extra attention to the cap to ensure that no hot sauce flavor or heat will be transferred to the homemade vanilla extract.  Take care not to soak plastic caps in soapy dishwater in an attempt to deep clean them as the soap can sometimes be transferred from plastic to alcohol and ruin a batch of vanilla extract.  Whenever possible use new glass bottles and caps for best results.  Reusing plastic jars (mayonnaise, pickles, etc) is not recommended.

About jar size, choose a jar that will allow for beans to properly submerge in the alcohol throughout the predicted use of the product.  Specifically, a tall bottle with a couple beans will work great until the first couple teaspoons of liquid is used thereby exposing the beans.  Choose a jar that is at least twice as large as the volume of alcohol-water solution you plan to infuse with.  When in doubt, a 16 fl oz wide mouth mason jar made of glass is reusable, closes tightly every time, offers plenty of room for infusing, and makes dispensing via teaspoon easy and controlled.

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.

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.

Vanillin in the food industry

Vanillin is widely used in the food industry as a flavoring agent. It is most commonly found in sweet products, especially ice cream and chocolate, but also in chocolate bars, creams, cakes, cookies, drinks or instant noodles. In addition, Vanillin is a component of vanillin sugar, which is a very popular product in the confectionery industry.

Vanillin is used in various alcoholic and soft drinks to reduce the use of sugar and other sweeteners.

How Long to Wait for Homemade Vanilla Extract to be Ready to Use?

Some tinctures and extracts are quick, but vanilla extract will require some time to fully extract all of the flavor components present in the bean. Expect to let your vanilla extract sit for at least 14 days before being ready to use in your baking recipes.

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.

Option 4 – Make Vanilla Sugar with a Vanilla Bean (The BEST Option!)

There are three ways you can make vanilla bean sugar. The first way is to pour sugar into a jar, stick a dried vanilla bean in it, place the lid on the jar, give it a shake, and let it sit in your cupboard for a few weeks to several months (giving it a shake every couple days). You can use the “caviar” (the seeds inside the vanilla pod) in a recipe, let the pod dry out for a day or two, and then stick it in the sugar.

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.

Option 4 – Use a Vanilla Bean

You’ve probably guessed by now my favorite way to make vanilla sugar is to use a fresh vanilla bean! You get the very best flavor and those beautiful vanilla bean flecks, the sugar stays white (if you’re using white sugar), and the texture remains sprinkle-able without having to run it through a food processor or coffee grinder. It’s so pretty and delicious, you’ll want to sprinkle it on everything!

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.

Ingredients Needed for Vanilla Extract

  • Whole Vanilla Beans.
  • 200 Proof Food Grade Ethanol (Ethyl Alcohol).
  • Water

Ingredient Notes

To Split, or Not to Split, the Beans – Splitting the bean to expose the inner seeds of the pod is recommended, but not required for a complete extraction.  Splitting the pod will allow the alcohol and water to reach the beans quicker, and will result in a faster extraction than leaving the beans whole.  Splitting the beans will result in some of the inner seeds falling out and settling on the bottom of your extract bottle, which may also result in them finding their way into your final recipe as little black specs.  Generally this is not a big problem for chefs as the black specs serve as notice to the consumer that real vanilla was used to achieve the flavor.  If your beans are especially long, it is recommend to cut the beans in half or quarters to ensure that the beans are fully submerged in the alcohol water solution for best extraction results.

To Scrape, or Not To Scrape, the Beans – Scraping the vanilla bean when making vanilla extract is unnecessary and not recommended.  The bean pod contains vanilla flavoring components that contribute to the overall vanilla extract and should be included vs discarded.  Scraping the inner seeds does fully expose them to the extract liquid, however also exposes them to air, creating the potential for some loss of flavor.  Scraping the beans also can be messy, and you may lose some of the innards to the cutting board or knife.

Not all alcohol is created equal when it comes to vanilla extract.  Be sure to source only pure food grade ethyl alcohol that contains no additives for making your homemade vanilla extract.  Distilled from certified organic corn, Culinary Solvent is pure food grade alcohol designed for making the best extracts, concentrates, tinctures, and much more.  Browse the selection of pure food grade alcohol for vanilla extract from Culinary Solvent here.

About using Vodka, Rum, or other Spirits for Vanilla Extract.  So long as the alcohol content of the spirit of choice is over 35% ABV, and enough beans are added to the liquid, vodka, rum, and other spirits are effective for making homemade vanilla extract.  Other spirts can impart flavors in addition to the vanilla beans that may be complimentary or distracting, the best way to know is to trust your nose and experiment to discover.  Culinary Solvent’s pure ethyl alcohol is distilled using an array of small pot stills which creates an alcohol of superior neutrality. Neutral means no taste, no odor, and a mouth feel that registers slightly sweet, making it the best alcohol for allowing the vanilla bean to be the prominent flavor.

Choose water based on taste.  Any water will work including tap, distilled, filtered, well, or spring.  If your water tastes good, then it will make good vanilla extract. If you are uncertain about the quality of your water on hand, choose your favorite bottled water for this recipe.

What Can I Do with Vanilla Sugar?

Serving coffee? Offer guests a scoop of vanilla sugar. Berries for dessert? Sprinkle a little vanilla sugar on top. Making whipped cream? Substitute vanilla sugar for vanilla extract and watch your guests swoon. ​

I like to sprinkle vanilla sugar on my oatmeal. Yuuuuum. You don’t need very much. Even just a little bit elevates the flavor and makes everything taste so, so good.

Option 1 – Buy Vanilla Sugar Packets

When I lived in Germany, I always used packets of Dr. Oetker vanilla sugar because I couldn’t ever find vanilla extract. After moving back to the US, I’d bring packets home whenever I’d visit Europe (the photo above is the Dutch version). These packets are convenient but the vanilla flavor is artificial. If you want the vanilla sugar taste but no vanilla bean flecks, or if you don’t want to make it yourself, this could be a good option.

What is Vanillin? Vanillin vs. vanilla

Vanillin is a highly aromatic organic chemical compound (vanillin glucoside). It is responsible for the smell and taste of vanilla. Dried vanilla beans contain about 2% Vanillin.

The terms Vanillin and vanilla are often confused with each other, but despite their similar names, they are not the same thing. Vanillin is a chemical compound that occurs naturally in the seeds of the vanilla plant, a plant with yellow-green flowers whose fruits are used to make spice vanilla beans. The most important distinguishing feature is the intensity of the aroma. Since vanilla is quite expensive to produce, manufacturers are increasingly turning to Vanillin. Another name for Vanillin is a synthetic substitute for vanilla. There is also Ethyl Vanillin, a flavoring agent that is many times stronger than Vanillin.

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.

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!

The Best Alcohol-to-Water Ratio (ABV) for Vanilla Extract Recipes

Vanilla beans require both water and ethanol in solution for a complete extraction.  Using just 200 proof ethanol (0% water) will not result in a vanilla extract.  While the FDA guidelines stipulate a minimum of 35% ABV, we have found that 50% ABV works best.  50% ABV (alcohol by volume) is made using equal parts by volume of water and 200 proof ethanol.

Why 50% ABV vs 35% ABV for Vanilla Extract Recipes

There are many benefits to using a slightly higher ABV when making your vanilla extract including:

  • Complete extraction of the water-soluble and alcohol-soluble compounds of the vanilla bean.  Vanilla beans contain both water and alcohol soluble compounds.  Having equal parts alcohol and water in solution (50% ABV) allows for a more complete extraction of these compounds into the liquid.
  • Longer shelf life.  Alcohol in solution acts as a natural preservative by locking in the flavor compounds and aromatic oils, extending the shelf life of your extract to years, even when kept at room temperature.
  • Less affect on liquid sensitive recipes. Alcohol contained in extracts evaporates away when exposed to air via stirring/mixing, or vaporizes when cooked/heated, vs water which will convert to steam.  Extracts that contain a higher percentage of water have the potential to affect the final recipe if too much is added to achieve the desired level of vanilla flavor.  Despite having a slightly higher concentration of alcohol, there will not be an “alcohol taste”, even to recipes that are not heated like ice-cream or frosting.
  • Convenience in measuring with accuracy. Especially when starting with 200 proof alcohol (100% ABV), achieving a ratio of 50% is as easy as adding equal parts of alcohol and water to your extract recipe.  Achieving 35% requires some math, and a kitchen scale, and there is increased risk of falling below the 35% ABV threshold.  Having too little alcohol in your extract can result in an incomplete extraction and reduced shelf-life.

What is Vanilla Sugar?

It’s just as it sounds – vanilla flavored sugar. When it comes to vanilla sugar, you have four options:

  • Buy vanilla sugar in packets.
  • Make it from scratch using vanilla extract.
  • Or vanilla paste.
  • Or a vanilla bean.

Since I’ve tried all four options, let me tell you a little more about each so you can decide which is the best option for you. I definitely have a a favorite – keep reading to find out which one it is.

What Does “Done” Look Like for Vanilla Extract

  • Color – Finished vanilla extract will be dark brown to black.  Tilted in the jar, the liquid should be more opaque than transparent.  Amber translucent liquid after an infusing time of 30 days or more indicates that not enough beans were used in the recipe. (no need to start over, just add more beans and wait a bit longer)
  • Aroma – The scent of the finished vanilla extract should be creamy, floral, and slightly sweet, with a hint of earthiness.  The presence of alcohol in solution will be obvious, and depending on the fill level of your infusing vessel, more prominent if there is a lot of air space (ie if your jar is half full, the airspace in the jar will be mostly alcohol vapors).  You can dissipate some of the alcohol vapors in jars with lots of airspace by gently blowing some air across the open container. some alcohol vapors may be present
  • Flavor – Sampling the vanilla extract directly is difficult to judge the vanilla flavor present thanks to the concentrated nature of the extract and the presence of the alcohol in solution.  Instead, dilute a small amount of extract using a dropper into a medium like milk, cream, half-and-half, or simple syrup to get a gauge on just how much vanilla flavor is present in the extract.  Suggested methods of sipping some milk plain, then sipping with extract added, then sipping plain milk again, then extract-added one last time will give your mouth and pallet the time to adjust to the nuance of baseline (plain) and flavor added to make a more accurate assessment of the infusion progression.

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Sugar

Making vanilla sugar is super easy! I’m going to show you how to make fresh homemade vanilla sugar with vanilla extract, vanilla paste, and a vanilla bean.

Vanillin – uses

Vanillin has several industrial uses, but most commonly its flavoring properties are used in the food industry. It is added to many products, especially confectionery products.

In addition, Vanillin is used in the production of cosmetics and perfumes to enhance their fragrance and eliminate undesirable odors. Cosmetics with Vanillin as a fragrance include soaps, shower gels, lotions or deodorants. Vanilla also adds a special flavor to lip care products. It has a soothing, calming effect on the skin and strengthens blood vessels.

Vanillin or Ethyl Vanillin is also an ingredient in cigarettes and e-cigarettes. Tobacco manufacturers use it as a flavoring agent, and it can be added to tobacco, cigarette paper or filters. Vanillin can make up to 0.05% of the total weight of tobacco used in a single cigarette.

A synthetic substitute for vanilla is also found as an intermediate in the pharmaceutical industry or in room and car air fresheners. It is also used as a chemical reagent, for example in the production of sulfovanillin, the reagent used in the microscopic examination of fungi.

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.

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.

Vanillin in the pharmaceutical industry

Besides the very well-known use of Vanillin in the food industry, the synthetic vanilla substitute is also used in pharmaceuticals. It has anticancer, antidiabetic, antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects. Vanillin is also added to medicines to mask their bitter taste.

Vanillin is found in medications for arthritis, allergies and gout. It is also a component of many antibiotics and antifungals.

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Have you tried this recipe?

Please leave a 5-star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating on the recipe card and consider leaving a comment as well! I would love to hear about how your dessert turned out and your feedback also helps other Readers!

  • 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.

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:

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.

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!


Vanillin is a natural aromatic flavouring compound and the major part of vanilla extracted from cured vanilla pods.

Vanillin has several pharmacological actions including anticancer, antidiabetic, antioxidant, antisickling, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory actions, amongst others, in addition to its role as a food additive.

Choosing the Right Variety of Vanilla Beans for Vanilla Extract.

Variety is the spice (a pun!) of life, but when it comes to vanilla extract, the answer to “which bean variety is best” comes down to personal preference and bean availability.  The vanilla beans you choose should be fragrant, slightly oily-sticky, and more plump-than-dry.  A majority of the flavor extracted will come from the inner pulp (the seeds), however the pod husks also contain flavor compounds that are very much worth extracting. Beans that are thin and dry (usually a sign they are old) will not contribute as much to the flavor to the extract as fresher “plump” beans.  If you find that your vanilla bean supply is more on the dry side, supplement the recipe on this page with a few extra beans.  Measuring by weight vs count is another method that can help ensure your vanilla extract contains plenty of vanilla flavor.

What You Need to Make Vanilla Sugar

  • Sugar
  • High quality vanilla extract (like this one)
  • OR vanilla paste (like this one)
  • OR a vanilla bean
  • Measuring cup/spoons or a scale
  • Mixing bowl & spoon or a Ziplock bag
  • Food processor or clean coffee grinder (optional)
  • Glass shaker jar (like this one) or any kind of jar with a tight-fitting lid

How to make vanilla sugar fast?

If you want homemade vanilla sugar in a flash, I recommend using a fresh vanilla bean. Slice it open, scrape out the seeds, and blend well with sugar.

How long does vanilla sugar last? Does vanilla sugar expire?

Vanilla sugar doesn’t really expire! Store it in a jar with a tight-fitting lid at room temperature and it will last indefinitely. I don’t recommend freezing or refrigerating it. Unless I’m doing a lot of baking or dessert-making with larger quantities of vanilla sugar, I usually make 1 jar a year and use here and there.

What’s a good vanilla sugar substitute?

Just use white sugar and vanilla extract. This won’t work if you want to sprinkle vanilla sugar on things like fruit but if you’re making cookies or whipped cream, it will work.

Can I make vanilla sugar syrup for coffee and other drinks?

What about vanilla sugar cookies?

Instead of using plain old white sugar and vanilla extract, use vanilla sugar instead! You’ll not only get a better vanilla flavor, you’ll get those lovely vanilla bean flecks in the cookies.

Is it possible to use vanilla sugar to make a vanilla sugar scrub?

Yes, and it will smell absolutely delicious.

Storing Finished Vanilla Extract

  • Storage Vessel:  Store finished vanilla extract in the same jar or bottle used for infusing.  Keep the jar tightly sealed.  Keep vanilla beans in the liquid as their flavor will continue to contribute to the liquid over a long period of time.  The wide mouth opening makes it easy to dip a measuring spoon into the liquid for dispensing into recipes.  Clear glass is fine for long term storage of vanilla extract, no need to source amber glass as is found on the store shelves.
  • Storage Location:  Cool and dark spot out of reach of children like a kitchen cupboard or refrigerator door.  It is acceptable to store alcohol based extracts over 35% ABV in the freezer, however unnecessary for longevity.  Extracts made below 35% ABV stored in the freezer may form a slush and is not recommended.
  • Estimated Shelf Life: Use within 1-3 years.  Vanilla extract does not expire (spoil), but over an extended period of time with frequent opening and closing, the flavors contained may begin to fade.
  • No need to separate beans and extract.  There is no negative effect to leaving the beans in the extract for storage, and many believe that keeping the beans with the liquid continue to develop the flavor and depth of the extract.  We recommend you keep the beans in the extract until the last drop is used.


advanced glycated end products

nuclear factor kappa B

nitrosamine 4-(methylnitrosamino)- 1-(3-pyridyl)- l-butanone

4-oxo-4-(3-pyridyl) butyric acid

reactive oxygen species

tumour necrosis factor-alpha

Option 3 – Vanilla Bean Paste

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.

Here my favorite way to make vanilla bean sugar

You can use it right away or let the flavors mature for a few days. I usually cut up the used vanilla pod and place that in my jar of vanilla sugar for a little extra flavor.

You might be wondering if you can use a sugar alternative to make vanilla sugar? I’ve been wondering that, too, so I’m currently trying out monk fruit vanilla sugar. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Here are the three jars of vanilla sugar I’ve got going right now: sugar with vanilla pod (bottom left), sugar with vanilla bean “caviar” and dried pod pieces (bottom right), and vanilla monk fruit “sugar.”


  • Pour sugar into a mixing bowl or Ziplock bag.
  • Using a small, sharp knife, cut the vanilla bean lengthwise. Be careful not to slice all the way through the bean.
  • Use the knife to carefully scrape out the “caviar” (the seeds inside the pod). Add it to the sugar and mix well.
  • Pour vanilla sugar into a sterilized jar and seal with a tight lid.
  • Let the vanilla pod dry out for a day or two and then place it in the vanilla sugar (you may need to cut it into a couple smaller pieces).
  • Store in a cool, dark cupboard.

Where Can I Buy Vanilla Sugar?

It’s super easy to find in Europe (just got to any grocery store) but in the US it’s more difficult. You can order it here from World Market, on Amazon or at a specialty food store. My recommendation, though, is to forgo the pre-made vanilla sugar packet and make your own at home!


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!

Additional Vanilla Extract Resources and Considerations

  • “The Problem with Vanilla”, Scientific American, September 2016, Link:
  • “Vanilla vs Vanillin – Science of Vanilla Flavorings” Blog, December 2021, Link:

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