What’s A Good Vanilla Extract Substitute?

The extract in vanilla extract’s name is there because the flavor is extracted from the vanilla bean using alcohol. Vanilla extract is essential for many desserts and baked goods, particularly cookies and cakes. If you run out unexpectedly or can’t find the pure version (as opposed to the imitation version) there are some of the best vanilla extract substitutes for you to use.

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Your best bet: Homemade vanilla extract

All you need to make vanilla extract are some vanilla beans and a form of alcohol. Note that while this is an effective substitute for the pre-made stuff, it is not a quick one as it will take time for the vanilla flavor to infuse into the alcohol. The good news is that the results are worth the wait.

You can use any type of vanilla beans to make your vanilla extract as long as you realize that the quality of the beans has a direct impact on the quality of the final product. Each type of bean will result in a different type of extract. Fruitier beans make a fruitier extract while earthier beans will provide an earthier taste.

The type of alcohol you use is important as well. If you want only the flavor of the bean, opt for something with a neutral flavor like vodka. Other popular alcohols used to make extract include bourbon, rum, and brandy, but you can use tequila as well.

Make your vanilla extract by splitting three beans lengthwise and adding them to about 1 cup of your preferred alcohol. You should let it sit for at least a month but the longer you let it sit before using it, the stronger and more complex the flavor will become.

A decent second choice: Vanilla sugar

Vanilla beans are pungent enough that you can infuse the flavor into sugar, as well as into liquids. Vanilla sugar uses sugar as the medium rather than alcohol. Since almost all recipes that call for vanilla are sweet, swapping out some (or all) of your sweetener for vanilla-flavored sugar should pose no problem at all.

You may be able to purchase vanilla sugar at a specialty bakery supply store, or you can make your own. Make it by splitting one vanilla bean lengthwise and scraping the seeds into two cups of sugar. Stir the sugar to mix the seeds in and store in an airtight container for about two weeks. Use the sugar in recipes that call for vanilla extract.

In a pinch: Maple syrup

If you have no vanilla beans at all, maple syrup is one ingredient that will not require you to wait. Maple syrup is the reduced sap of the maple tree and has a deep caramel flavor with nutty background notes. There are different grades of maple syrup, with the darker type having a deeper caramel flavor. Vanillin is the primary flavor component in vanilla beans and is also present in maple syrup.

Use the same amount of maple syrup that your recipe requires for vanilla extract. Note that maple syrup is sweet, so you may need to adjust the amount of sweetener in your recipe to compensate.

If you must: Imitation vanilla

Imitation vanilla can work as a vanilla extract alternative, but it’s not necessarily the best option. Imitation vanilla is made from synthetic chemicals and lacks the complexity and richness of natural vanilla extract, which is derived from actual vanilla beans. While imitation vanilla can mimic the flavor of vanilla, it often has a slightly artificial taste and can leave a bitter aftertaste. It can be a more cost-effective option for baking and cooking, but for recipes where the flavor of vanilla is crucial, it’s best to use pure vanilla extract.

Other alternatives

Vanilla syrup is another way that you can extract the flavor of vanilla beans. You can make vanilla syrup by adding the seeds from one vanilla bean to a simple syrup (in the ratio of two cups sugar, one cup water) and simmering it for about 20 minutes. This is a faster option than other vanilla extract substitutes.

Triple Sec is an orange-flavored liqueur. Its flavor can work in place of vanilla extract in most applications, though there is a taste difference.

Vanilla powder can be a good substitute for vanilla extract in certain situations, but it is not always a perfect replacement. Vanilla powder is made from dried and ground vanilla beans, whereas vanilla extract is made by steeping vanilla beans in alcohol and water. This means that vanilla powder has a stronger and more concentrated vanilla flavor than vanilla extract. As well, because it is a dry ingredient, it may not work as well if your recipe calls for liquid ingredients. 

–> Learn More: Vanilla Powder Vs. Vanilla Extract

Almond extract can work in some cases, but the flavor will be different enough that it may be noticeable. Almond extract has a nutty and slightly sweet taste, while vanilla extract has a more floral and sweet flavor. Almond extract works well in recipes where the nutty flavor is desirable, such as in nut-based cookies or cakes.