11 Substitutes for Vanilla Extract You Can Use

11 Substitutes for Vanilla Extract You Can Use

Vanilla extract is an incredible ingredient for home cooks! It imbues a deep caramel-like taste to your favorite fancy desserts and baked goods with just a few drops. It also enhances the flavor profile of sauces, drinks, and even meat by adding a touch of complex floral and nutty flavor. With a potent aroma like no other, finding a substitute for vanilla extract might seem like an impossible task.

Luckily, there are a bunch of options you can use as a replacement for a vanilla extract that might already be in your pantry. So continue scrolling and find out which ingredients from your kitchen makes the perfect alternative to help deepen flavors just like what vanilla extract does.

Pure Vanilla Extract vs Imitation Vanilla

Before delving into the substitute ingredients, let’s first discuss the difference between pure vanilla extract and imitation vanilla. Pure vanilla extract is known for its rich and complex flavor that comes from organic compounds tannins, polyphenols, and vanillin. This brown liquid has a pleasantly smooth vanilla taste that works amazingly for cookies, cakes, frostings, and sauces.

But if you don’t have a bottle of pure vanilla extract around at home, you might be tempted to try the easy route and purchase imitation vanilla instead. Compared to the former, it’s less expensive and provides a bit of its iconic taste. But unlike pure extract that has hundreds of flavor compounds, vanilla essence only has little to no synthetic vanillin. And if you’re looking to add depth of flavor to your dishes, you might end up a bit disappointed as this vanilla flavoring doesn’t match up to the original.

So instead of compromising your recipes, just use one of these alcoholic and non-alcoholic options for your scrumptious dishes:

11 Alternatives for Vanilla Extract to Try

substitute for vanilla extract infographic

How do you finish making your Oreo pizza dish when you’ve already used up all your vanilla extract in previous recipes? Instead of doing a quick grocery run, save time and money by using one of the alternative ingredients below!

Vanilla Beans

Vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in a mixture of ethyl alcohol and water. So it’s obvious that this long, brown fruit is the perfect alternative to our star ingredient! Since it’s the source, it has the closest flavor to the extract, but without the hints of alcohol. 

To use the vanilla bean, slice the pod in half then take out the soft inner seeds using a knife. Then, put them directly into your batter or drink. The seeds of one 6-inch vanilla bean pod are enough to replace one to two tablespoons of extract. Take note that this alternative is perfect for soft and pillowy desserts just like this apricot dump cake

In addition, if you don’t want the empty vanilla pods to be wasted, just toss one or two of them in an empty jar and add one cup of granulated sugar to make aromatic vanilla sugar.

Vanilla Paste

Another good alcohol-free substitute for vanilla extract is thick vanilla paste. It’s a product of ground vanilla beans, extract, and honey and boasts a thicker and more concentrated consistency. It also lends a more intense flavor that’s perfect if you want noticeable hints of vanilla flavor in your dishes. To use as an alternative, start with a 1:1 ratio.

Vanilla Powder

Just like the alternative above, this alcohol-free vanilla extract substitute also comes from the mother of all vanilla products. Solely made from the beans, this replacement is perfect if you’re on a search for a more potent vanilla flavor and alcohol-like notes that don’t evaporate when cooked. Ideal for pastry cream, custard pie, and drinks, mix in ½ to one tablespoon of vanilla powder in place of one tablespoon of vanilla extract.

Maple Syrup

If you have maple syrup in your pantry then you’re in luck! This rich and thick ingredient is not only ideal as a sauce for your favorite breakfast dish. Its mellow flavor perfectly imitates the sweetness of vanilla that you can’t even tell the difference. Just use an equal amount of maple syrup in place of vanilla extract in your dishes to substitute.

Almond Extract

Wondering if you can replace vanilla extract with other extracts? Of course, you can! One perfect example is the highly concentrated and strong almond extract. Although it’s significantly more potent than vanilla extract, it imparts a similar nutty taste to spoon desserts. So if your recipe requires one tablespoon of vanilla extract, just add ½ tablespoon of almond extract. You can even add orange and peppermint extracts for your baked goods depending on the flavor you want to impart.

Citrus Zest

For recipes that don’t require intense notes of vanilla, citrus zest surely does a pretty good job. Orange, lemon, and lime zests incorporate bite to your dishes without adding too much tartness. If your recipe calls for one tablespoon of vanilla extract, use the same amount of citrus zest.


You can always rely on your favorite spices when you’re out of the vanilla extract. The strong and earthy chai spice is a perfect substitute when you’re making sweet pound cake or delectable cookies. Pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and cardamom work well too. 

Even though these spices don’t exactly mimic the taste of vanilla extract, they add depth of flavor just like the fragrant ingredient. Start by incorporating a pinch of any of these spices then build the flavor gradually.

Espresso Powder or Instant Coffee

One of the easiest replacements for vanilla extract you can find at home is your favorite caffeine boost. With their earthy and bitter hints, espresso powder or instant coffee goes well with chocolate desserts. It makes cakes and brownies richer while also enhancing the chocolate taste. Like the spices, use just a pinch of this substitute for vanilla extract to deepen the flavor of your dessert.

READ ALSO: Best Decaf Coffee Brands To Buy


The mellow honey is also an amazing replacement for vanilla extract. Even though it’s lighter, good honey brings floral sweetness to any dish just like how the original ingredient would. Use one tablespoon of honey if your recipe calls for one tablespoon of vanilla extract.

Bourbon, Rum, or Brandy

Vanilla extract uses alcohol that’s why it’s no surprise that you can use strong liquors as an alternative. If you’re not steering clear of alcohol, using them might do the trick. Bourbon has vanilla-like notes, and rum lends toasted sweetness. Meanwhile, brandy provides warm sweetness. Save your desserts by incorporating the same amount of any of these liquors for the vanilla extract.

Vanilla Milk or Vanilla-Flavored Plant-Based Milk

Get your vanilla-flavored milk out of the fridge and enjoy its deliciousness in your favorite desserts. It will be slightly milder but will definitely make up in terms of flavor. The small amount of milk also won’t affect the consistency or texture of your dish. Just like most of the alternatives, use a 1:1 ratio.

How to Make Vanilla Extract

a bottle of homemade vanilla extract with a vanilla bean pod

Instead of replacing vanilla extract with alternative ingredients, why not just make your own version? Try whipping up some homemade vanilla extract with just a few ingredients! Just follow this vanilla extract recipe and enjoy your simple concoction.


  • 6 vanilla beans
  • 1 cup vodka, 70 proof


  1. Slit each vanilla bean in half, lengthwise, using a knife, and place in an 8-ounce bottle or jar. If the beans are too long for your container, cut them into smaller pieces.
  2. Pour the vodka into the bottle, cover using a tight seal, and give it a good shake. Make sure that the beans are fully submerged.
  3. Place in a cool, dark place and leave it for 2 to 6 months. The longer you let it soak, the more flavor it will have. Just remember to shake it once or twice a week.

This homemade vanilla extract will last for a long time. Remember to do a quick whiff before using it. If it still smells good, then you can mix it into your dish. You can also just refill the alcohol when you start to use it to avoid running out of supply. 

Add Flavor Using These Vanilla Extract Substitutes

Although some of these alternatives don’t provide the exact flavor profile of vanilla extract, the substitutes above will surely lend amazing hints to your dish. So just reach out to any of these pantry-accessible ingredients and discover what different flavors these replacements might bring!

Want to share your experience with these vanilla extract substitutes or have another alternative to suggest? Join the discussion in the Ingredients Spotlight forum section!

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Tonet King

Tonet is a content writer who loves to laugh out loud while sharing stories with her friends and family. Nothing brightens up her mood better than sipping on a fresh brew of coffee while watching her favorite sitcoms. A guilty fast-food lover and a proud follower of Japanese cuisine, she enjoys the comfort any meal brings especially when people are huddled around it.