Pure vanilla extract has a unique, distinct flavor. It is an incredibly popular ingredient that adds bold flavor, allowing recipes to reach their full, delicious potential.

Vanilla extract adds a deeply aromatic and floral flavor to all kinds of baked treats and desserts like cookies, cakes, and custards. It is also notorious for enhancing the taste of chocolate when paired together.

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However, if you are in a jam and run out of it, there’s no need to let it disrupt your cooking or baking activities.

There are plenty of substitutes available for vanilla extract. Interestingly enough, items in your kitchen pantry can also substitute vanilla extract, saving you that extra trip to the store.

Here are the best substitutes for vanilla extract that you should try if you are in a pinch.

What is Vanilla? 

Vanilla comes from orchids belonging to the Vanilla genus and is grown in different parts of the world, such as Mexico, Madagascar, and Tahiti. It is one of the most expensive spices globally, second only to saffron.

The high cost is due to the extensive effort involved in producing each vanilla pod. Most vanilla orchids require delicate hand-pollination. Afterward, the pods are carefully harvested by hand and undergo a curing process.

They can then be sold as whole vanilla beans or processed further to create vanilla extract, paste, and other products.

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What is Vanilla Extract Made Of? 

Vanilla extract is created using vanilla beans or pods, which come from specific types of orchids. These pods are harvested when they are still green and then left to dry for about six months. During this time, the beans transform into the familiar long shape and develop dark, wrinkled skin.

To make vanilla extract, the dried pods are steeped in a blend of water and alcohol. This mixture helps to preserve and extract the warm, sweet flavor of the vanilla beans. 

Through steeping, the liquid absorbs the aromatic compounds and essence of the beans, resulting in the flavorful vanilla extract that we know and love.

What Is The Difference Between Imitation And Pure Vanilla Extract?

It’s important to distinguish between pure vanilla extract and imitation vanilla flavor. Pure vanilla extract, like what we use in our vanilla pumpkin cornbread is made from real vanilla beans, while imitation vanilla extract is artificially flavored using synthetic vanillin and colored with caramel. 

However, not all pure vanilla extracts are of the same quality. When choosing a high-quality vanilla extract, check the ingredients to ensure it contains only water, alcohol, and vanilla beans. 

Some brands may add 3% to 5% sugar to stabilize the mixture. But extracts with higher sugar percentages, including corn syrup or other sweeteners, should be avoided as they affect your baked goods’ final texture and taste.

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What Happens When We Use Vanilla Extract

Using vanilla extract in our cooking or baking adds a rich and sweet flavor. The compounds present in the vanilla extract, such as vanillin and other flavor compounds, interact with our taste buds, enhancing the overall taste experience. 

In addition to flavor, vanilla extract can contribute to a dish’s aroma. The fragrance of vanilla can create a comforting and inviting atmosphere, making the food more enjoyable. 

10 Best Vanilla Extract Substitutes

If you are without vanilla extract, there are several options in your kitchen pantry that can serve as substitutes and help enhance flavors, just like vanilla extract does. 

Maple Syrup

You’re in luck if you have pure maple syrup in your pantry! This rich and thick ingredient is best known for adding intense flavor to your favorite breakfast pancakes and waffles, but its sweet and earthy flavor perfectly mimics vanilla’s sweetness. You won’t even be able to tell the difference! It also makes a great substitute for sugar.

How to substitute: Replace one teaspoon of vanilla extract with one teaspoon of maple syrup. The thickness of the syrup may vary, so adjust the quantity accordingly.


Honey makes a fantastic alternative to vanilla extract. Despite being lighter, high-quality pure honey adds a delightful natural sweetness and floral notes to baked goods like this citrus honey biscuits.

How to substitute: Use one teaspoon of honey to replace one teaspoon of vanilla extract. The consistency of honey can vary, so it’s best to adjust the quantity to maintain the desired sweetness. Honey also works well in desserts, dressings, and marinades.

Vanilla Powder

Vanilla powder is made from ground vanilla beans. Vanilla powder provides a concentrated form of vanilla flavor. It contains the same compounds found in vanilla extract, allowing it to serve as an alcohol-free vanilla extract substitute. Use vanilla powder if you are in a jam and need a quick substitute.

How to substitute: Use ½ teaspoon of vanilla powder to replace one teaspoon of vanilla extract. It is beneficial to avoid adding additional liquid to a recipe.

Vanilla Bean

If you happen to have vanilla beans stashed away in your pantry, they can be the perfect substitution for vanilla extract. Vanilla beans are the source of vanilla extract, so using them directly provides an authentic flavor. The beans contain vanillin and other aromatic compounds responsible for the unique taste. They’re wonderful in our vanilla fig preserves.

How to substitute: Split a vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. The seeds can be used to replace vanilla extract. One vanilla bean is roughly equivalent to 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. 

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Vanilla Paste

Thick vanilla paste is another excellent alcohol-free substitute for vanilla extract. Made from ground vanilla beans, extract, and honey, it offers a denser and more concentrated consistency. 

It also adds a more robust flavor, ideal if you want a stronger hint of vanilla in your dish. The flecks of vanilla from the bean are noticeable in the paste which is also a nice touch to the recipe you’re making. We use it in our creamy macadamia nut butter and it blends in wonderfully.

How to substitute: Replace one teaspoon of vanilla extract with one teaspoon of vanilla paste. The paste will infuse your recipes with the rich taste of vanilla beans. Stir the paste well before using it in your recipe to distribute it evenly.

Almond Extract

Almond extract adds a delightful nutty and sweet flavor to spoon desserts and dishes. While it doesn’t replicate the exact taste of vanilla, it can serve as a unique vanilla extract alternative. It’s a must in these homemade vegan thumbprint cookies.

How to substitute: Substitute ½ teaspoon of almond extract for one teaspoon of vanilla extract. Adjust the quantity based on your preference. Almond extract pairs well with baked goods, especially those containing nuts or fruits.

Coconut Extract

Coconut extract infuses your recipes (like this coffee coconut ice cream) with a tropical touch. It contains compounds that provide a distinct and aromatic flavor.

How to substitute: Replace one teaspoon of vanilla extract with one teaspoon of coconut extract. Coconut extract works well in desserts, beverages, and dishes with a coconut flavor profile.

Bourbon or Brandy

Vanilla extract typically contains alcohol like vodka. So, it’s unsurprising that strong liquors like bourbon and brandy can be used as an alternative. Bourbon offers vanilla-like notes, while brandy provides a warm and sweet flavor. Try our popular holiday apricot brandy cake for a stunningly easy dessert whose flavor is unbeatable.

How to substitute: Use ½ teaspoon of bourbon or brandy to replace one teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Vanilla Flavored Rum

Similar to bourbon, vanilla-flavored rum can be a great substitute for recipes. Rum will add a toasted sweetness to your recipe, enhancing the overall flavor profile. 

How to substitute: Use ½ teaspoon of rum to replace one teaspoon of vanilla extract.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

If you are patient, making homemade vanilla extract at home is a simple and cost-effective way of getting a good supply of vanilla extract. However, it could take a few weeks (up to 12) for the vanilla beans to infuse their essence into the mixture.

However, the beauty of making your own is that you can make an endless that can last a while. 

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When To Use A Substitute

There are a few situations where you might want to use a vanilla extract substitute:

Cost Considerations

Vanilla extract can be expensive, mainly if you use high-quality pure vanilla extract. Using a substitute can be more cost-effective if you’re keen on saving money. It is also worth considering if you’re making a large recipe batch requiring a significant amount of vanilla extract.

Low on Vanilla Extract

If you’ve run out of vanilla extract while preparing a recipe, using a substitute can save you from going to the store.

Allergies or Dietary Restrictions

Vanilla extract is made from alcohol and vanilla beans, which may not be suitable for everyone. In cases where someone has specific and strict dietary restrictions, finding a substitute is often best.

Experimenting with Different Flavors

If you want to experiment with your recipe, trying a unique flavor profile is worth trying. Using a substitute can allow you to explore other flavors and create new and exciting culinary experiences.

This article originally appeared on Pink When.

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Tamara White

Tamara White is the founder ofThe Thrifty Apartment, a home decor and DIY blog that focuses on affordable and budget-friendly home decorating ideas and projects. Tamara documents her home improvement journey, love of thrifting, tips for space optimization, and creating beautiful spaces.

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