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The Essential Guide To Vanilla Substitutes

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Holding a bottle of vanilla next to baked muffins

Unless it’s your first time in the kitchen, you already know vanilla is a versatile ingredient in cooking. It makes a popular addition to puddings, cakes, cookies, and much more.

If you don’t have any or want a cheaper option then you’ve come to the right place. We have created the ultimate vanilla substitute resource. Nothing on the interwebs comes close to the “helpfulness factor” of this page.

What can I use to replace vanilla in recipes?

In most recipes, you’ll find that vanilla essence, vanilla extract, vanilla beans, or vanilla bean paste can all be used interchangeably. For a slightly different flavor try almond extract or liquor like vanilla rum or brandy. In recipes where vanilla isn’t the hero, you can simply leave it out.

1. Another type of vanilla

If you need to replace vanilla in a recipe then it makes sense that your first choice would be to use a different type of vanilla. After all, you’ll get the same flavor, which we assume you are hoping for. If not, skip to the next replacement option.

Different types of vanilla have varying intensity levels and vanilla pods are best infused into a liquid. If you want to substitute one variety for another then refer to the table below.

Guide to using vanilla types interchangeably

An infographic showing how to swap one type of vanilla for another

Unsure when to use each type of vanilla? We recommend splashing out on vanilla bean or paste when it’s the star of the dish. Recipes like crème brûlée, puddings, and ice cream are good examples.

If vanilla is “playing second fiddle” to other ingredients like cocoa in chocolate cake then vanilla extract or essence will work fine. You may also want to check out our vanilla extract recipe if you like DIY food projects.

If you prefer looking at tables, check out this one:

Original ingredientReplace with
1 tsp vanilla extract2 tsp vanilla essence or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or half a vanilla pod
1 tsp vanilla essence½ tsp vanilla extract or paste
1 tsp vanilla paste2 tsp vanilla essence or 1 tsp vanilla extract or half a vanilla pod
1 vanilla pod2 teaspoons of vanilla extract or paste

Note: We rated the following vanilla substitutes based on whether they’re a close match on taste.

2. Vanillin sugar

Vanillin sugar in a shaker jar

Vanillin sugar, or vanilla sugar, is a mix of sugar and vanilla flavor. It’s easy to find in the grocery store and will work in baking recipes where a subtle taste of vanilla needed. It’s also delicious stirred into hot beverages.

You’ll need a heavy hand with this replacement – try using roughly three times as much as the recipe calls for. Otherwise you’ll barely taste it.

As the name suggests, vanilla sugar is mostly sugar. You’re best to cut back on the other sweeteners to compensate. 

You can also sprinkle vanilla sugar over the final food if it’s appropriate for the dish.

3. Almond extract

Almond extract in a bottle

Almond extract won’t provide the same flavor you’d get from vanilla, but it’s still a useful alternative. They both have an aromatic, sweet flavor that works well in desserts, puddings, and baked goods.

Almond extract has a strong flavor so go easy when you add it. Try half the amount and taste test (if possible) before adding more.

After a quick search in the baking aisle, you’ll discover almond extract is a little cheaper than vanilla (although brands vary). It’s perfect for anyone who’s looking for a lower-cost alternative to vanilla. Of course, you could always buy a bottle of vanilla essence which is the cheapest way to add vanilla flavor to food.

Interesting reading: What are the best alternatives to almond paste?

4. Fiori di Sicilia

Fiori di Sicilia flavoring

Fiori di Sicilia is a lesser-known ingredient that usually comes as a liquid in a bottle. It offers a mouth-watering combination of vanilla and citrus flavor with an enticing floral aroma.

The Italians use it in pandoro and panettone for its smell as much as its taste. It’s also great for replacing vanilla in sweet breads, pound cake, pies, cookies, or meringues.

If you’re making a dessert with intense flavors, like a dark chocolate tart, then Fiori di Sicilia isn’t recommended. It is best used as the star of the dish. Other flavors will easily overwhelm it.

5. Alcohol

A bottle of vanilla rum

Sweet or savory recipes that call for vanilla will also work well with liquor.

  • Vanilla-flavored rum is perfect for rum balls or baked goods like banana bread and chocolate cake.
  • Bourbon or whiskey is just as good as vanilla in pecan pie, gingerbread, sauces, stews, seafood, or beef cheeks.
  • Brandy is great in savory dishes, but it’s also useful for flavoring sweet treats like ice cream, cupcakes, and frosting.

If you don’t like an intense alcohol flavor in your food, then you’ll need to use it in recipes that get cooked. While heating won’t completely remove the taste, much of the spirit will get cooked out.

Use equal amounts of alcohol as you’d use vanilla or a little less for less intensity.

6. Maple syrup

Holding a bottle of maple syrup

While maple syrup is predominantly maple-flavored, it also has delicious hints of caramel and vanilla. Its lovely, sweet aroma is similar to vanilla, and it works well in most baked goods.

You can use the same amount of maple syrup as you’d use vanilla extract, but keep in mind it’s much sweeter. If you’re adding other sweeteners then reduce them a little to allow for the maple syrup.

Tip: Golden syrup is also a good choice that can be used like maple syrup.

7. Honey

Liquid honey in a squeeze bottle

Honey is another handy replacement for vanilla if you’re okay with changing the recipe’s flavor. The dish will still get a subtle floral sweetness, but the honey flavor will certainly be noticeable.

Use honey for muffins, basbousa, tea cake, sponge cake, or cheesecake. Remember it’s sweet, so reduce the sugar if it’s also being added.

8. Vanilla ice cream

A tub of vanilla bean ice cream

Occasionally you’ll be able to use ice cream as a substitute for vanilla extract. As you can probably guess, it won’t work in most applications. However, in floats and milkshakes, it’s a delicious way to add flavor without using a drop of vanilla.

Use this alternative in moderation as vanilla is a much healthier way to get your flavor fix.

9. Vanilla Tea

A box of vanilla tea

If you’re in a pinch, desperate for vanilla flavor but don’t have any, check what tea you have in the cupboard. Although it’s not the commonest variety, if you’ve got vanilla tea then try it.

You won’t get the same flavor intensity and it’ll bring new flavors to the table. This is a good option for those home cooks who love a challenge and enjoy experimenting with food.

10. Vanilla-flavored milk

Vanilla soy milk in a carton

Dairy-free milk alternatives like soy, coconut, or almond milk will sometimes work as a vanilla backup. If a recipe calls for one teaspoon of vanilla extract, then try adding a tablespoon of milk and testing to see if more is needed.

Recipes that use milk like cookies, cakes, and pancakes will allow you to reduce the regular milk and replace it with plant-based vanilla milk.

Related reading: What are some handy replacements for buttermilk?

11. Coffee

A tin of coffee

For a completely different taste to vanilla, use coffee. It is ideal for adding to chocolate desserts and baked goods. A pinch of espresso powder or instant coffee is all that’s needed to enhance the rich, choc flavor in the food.

If you love your coffee, you may also want to find out how to replace coffee liqueur or why some cafes serve water with coffee?

12. Other spices

Holding jars of cinnamon and cloves

If you aren’t a fan of vanilla but want to spice up your food, then grab a different jar from the spice rack. Better yet, use a combination. Cinnamon and ground cloves are great in drinks, yogurt, pumpkin pie, and other desserts.

Other spices like nutmeg or cardamom will also taste great but use a light hand. They’ll quickly overwhelm sweet or savory dishes and you’ll be left staring at that bottle of vanilla essence wishing you’d used it.

13. Citrus zest

A fresh lemon

If you have a spare lemon, lime, or orange in the fruit bowl then use its zest in your next recipe. They are packed with zesty flavor, good for any sweet treat you intend to make.

If you decide to add a little juice for extra flavor, remember to cut back on other liquids to keep the ratios correct.

Using zest is ideal for people who want a different, punchier-tasting baked good or dessert.

Commonly asked questions

Can you skip vanilla extract in a recipe?

In recipes where vanilla isn’t the star of the dish, it is okay to leave it our and not replace it with a substitute. If vanilla is the main flavor, try using vanilla sugar, maple syrup, or almond extract as a replacement.

Can I make my own vanilla extract?

If you love vanilla extract but find it too expensive, you may want to make homemade vanilla extract. You’ll get a high-quality extract that will always taste better than the store-bought version.

What’s the difference between vanilla essence and extract?

Vanilla extract is made by macerating vanilla beans in a solution of water and alcohol like vodka. Vanilla essence is a cheaper, synthetically manufactured flavoring. You’ll find extract has a more complex depth of flavor with greater flavor intensity than essence.

Summing up

If you’re looking to replace a specific type of vanilla such as an extract, you’re best to use another variety like vanilla essence, paste, or pods. They can be used interchangeably in recipes, but you’ll do well to adjust the quantity used as they vary in intensity.

There are plenty of other vanilla substitutes that can be used instead of the real thing. Choose ingredients like almond extract, maple syrup, or alcohol like rum, brandy, or bourbon.

Fiori di Sicilia isn’t as easy to find in stores, but if you can get your hands on a bottle, it’s well worth it. It adds a delicious mix of vanilla and citrus that many would argue is a step up from vanilla.