Vanilla extract is a popular flavoring ingredient in many desserts and baked goods. There are various substitutes people can use in a pinch, but some may be better suited to certain recipes than others.
Pure vanilla extract comes from the pods of the tropical vanilla orchid Vanilla planifolia. The pods contain tiny black seeds rich in vanillin, which is responsible for the deep, rich flavor of the liquid flavoring.
Many baked goods and sweet recipes contain vanilla extract. A small amount provides an intense, aromatic flavor that enhances flavor.
There are many reasons why someone could want a substitute for vanilla extract. They may have run out, prefer the flavor of a substitute, or want an alcohol-free option. According to FDA regulations, vanilla extract must contain at least 35% alcohol, and the flavor can only come from vanilla beans.
Read more to learn about vanilla extract alternatives, when to use them, and common reasons for substituting.
There are several replacements for vanilla extract. While some substitutes may work well in certain recipes, different substitutes may be better for others.
Since vanilla extract and its substitutes have a strong flavor, be sure to use the correct ratio for substitutions. Keep in mind that concentration levels may vary, especially among homemade products.
1. Vanilla paste
Vanilla paste — also called vanilla bean paste — is a mix of vanilla extract, vanilla beans, and sugar. It has an intense flavor and a smooth texture and contains the distinctive black flecks of vanilla beans.
Despite its name, vanilla paste’s consistency is not as thick as one may expect. It is similar to syrup.
According to vanilla paste manufacturers, people can substitute paste for extract at a 1-1 ratio.
2. Vanilla powder
Vanilla powder is a fine, light-colored powder made of ground vanilla beans. Many people like using it in pale cakes or frostings, as it does not tint them brown like extract does.
Vanilla powder is also more concentrated. High temperatures may evaporate vanilla extract, making a baked good less flavorful. Vanilla powder is unaffected by high heat.
People can use vanilla powder for baking, stir it into cereal or oatmeal, blend it into coffee or hot chocolate, or sprinkle it in granola.
Vanilla powder manufacturers suggest using a 1-1 ratio when substituting powder for extract.
3. Vanilla sugar
Vanilla sugar is sugar infused with vanilla beans. While it can be hard to find in the United States, people commonly use it in Europe.
When baking, people can use vanilla sugar in place of regular sugar. They can also sprinkle it on top of freshly baked pies, cookies, and cakes.
Use vanilla sugar in place of the regular sugar in a recipe, and omit the vanilla extract.
4. Almond extract
The nutty flavor of almond extract is stronger than vanilla, which works well for certain desserts. However, using too much can cause a bitter taste.
People commonly use almond extract in french toast, pound cakes, and cookies.
Because of almond extract’s strong flavor, people should use it sparingly.
5. Maple syrup
Pure maple syrup has a rich, sweet flavor profile that makes it an excellent vanilla extract alternative. It can also add moisture and binding properties to baked goods.
Be sure to use pure maple syrup instead of imitation syrup. Because the flavor is slightly different from vanilla extract, people should add it to taste.
Honey adds a bright, floral sweetness to desserts. Like maple syrup, it can also enhance the texture of baked goods.
Use 1 tablespoon of honey to replace 1 teaspoon (tsp) of vanilla extract.
7. Bourbon, brandy, rum, or vanilla liqueur
Spirits such as bourbon, brandy, rum, and vanilla liqueur can mimic the rich, caramelly taste of vanilla extract.
Use 2 tsp of alcohol to replace 1 tsp of vanilla extract.
People should take care when using these in recipes that they will serve to children, pregnant individuals, or those who avoid alcohol. While most of the alcohol will cook off when exposed to heat, no-bake or minimally baked dishes can retain some.
8. Vanilla flavored plant-based milk
Vanilla-flavored almond, oat, or soy milk can easily replace vanilla extract, though the flavor will be more subtle.
Use 1 tsp of milk for 1 tsp of vanilla extract.
People substitute vanilla extract for many reasons. They may run out of vanilla extract in the middle of baking, or they could simply people enjoy experimenting with different ingredients.
Some people also prefer to use alcohol-free ingredients, causing them to avoid vanilla extract, which contains at least 35% alcohol.
Bakers may also prefer a colorless vanilla extract alternative when making light-colored cakes or frostings. While vanilla extract can tint pale batters brown, substitutes like vanilla powder have a subtler effect on their color.
Imitation vanilla extract is an artificial flavoring that is less expensive — and flavorful — than pure vanilla extract. Compared to imitation vanilla, pure vanilla extract has a richer taste and aroma.
Although it is cheaper, recipes often call for twice as much imitation vanilla to make up for its weaker flavor profile.
According to manufacturers, imitation vanilla contains vanillin as well as synthetic ingredients, including artificial colors, sweeteners, and preservatives. Pure vanilla extract contains water, alcohol, sugar, and vanilla bean extractives.
Pure vanilla extract lends a distinctive, complex flavor to a variety of dishes and baked goods.
People may choose to use a substitute because they have run out of vanilla extract, prefer the flavor and texture of an alternative, or want an alcohol-free option.
It is important to use the correct substitution measurements and ensure the substitution is appropriate for the recipe. People can experiment with different combinations and ratios, modifying the amounts as needed.