Bottle of vanilla extract on white towel surrounded by mixing bowls and whisk.
Helpful Tips

Vanilla Extract Substitutes

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Vanilla extract is a baking necessity, adding flavor to countless sweet treats. But what happens when you’re in the middle of a recipe and realize you’re out? Don’t worry, bakers; there are many easy vanilla extract substitutes you can use in a pinch. 

Bottle of vanilla extract on white towel next to spoon in front of bowel of batter with whisk.
Photo credit: Food Flavors via Unsplash.

Whether you have a different extract on hand, some pantry staples or even a touch of another spice, there are several options available. In this article, we’ll explore a variety of substitutes, along with tips on using them for the best results in your baking.

Why vanilla extract is necessary

Vanilla extract gives certain qualities to baked goods and desserts. Here are some reasons why vanilla extract is needed: 

  • It adds flavor.
  • It adds moisture to give baked goods their soft, fluffy texture.
  • It enhances the flavor of other ingredients and adds depth. Without it, the other flavors taste flat and bland.

Common vanilla extract substitutes

Vanilla extract substitutes can change a recipe’s flavor, texture or consistency. Having the exact ingredient a recipe calls for is ideal, but only sometimes possible.

Vanilla bean

Bundle of vanilla beans on green background.
Vanilla. Photo credit: Yayimages.

Use the inside, soft pods of a vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract. Slice the bean in half the long way and scrape the soft interior with a spoon. If you are using it in a light-colored batter, you will see little black flecks. One vanilla bean pod replaces 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract. Vanilla beans are best in puddings and custards.

Vanilla essence

Vanilla essence doesn’t have a flavor as strong as vanilla extract. Because of this, 2 teaspoons of vanilla essence replaces 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. It works best when making recipes where vanilla isn’t the primary flavor, such as oatmeal cookies or chocolate cake.

Vanilla powder

Vanilla powder is made of dehydrated ground vanilla beans. It is dry and alcohol-free and can be used as a one-for-one substitute for vanilla extract. The recipe may be dry because you are not adding liquid.

Vanilla almond milk

Jar of milk next to white bowl of almonds.
Photo credit: Yayimages.

Vanilla almond milk can replace the vanilla flavor in your recipe. The flavor will be more subtle, so for every teaspoon of vanilla the recipe calls for, use 2 teaspoons of vanilla almond milk. 

Vanilla sugar

Vanilla sugar is one of the most common substitutions. To use it, you will have to reduce the amount of the other sugars you add to the recipe. Use three times more vanilla sugar than the amount of vanilla extract the recipe calls for. 

Vanilla liquor

The alcohol in vanilla liquor will cook off while baking, just like when using vanilla extract. It can be used as a one-to-one replacement for vanilla extract. 

Vanilla syrup

Vanilla-flavored syrup is best for cocktails, iced tea and baked goods. It can be used as a one-for-one replacement for vanilla extract. Too much syrup can make your baked goods turn out too sweet. It can also make baked goods stickier and thicker because it doesn’t dissolve as quickly as vanilla extract. Your baked goods may turn out denser and harder to chew.

Almond extract

Almond extract has a strong almond flavor but can be used as a vanilla extract substitute. Because of its strong flavor, you will need to use half the amount. If the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of vanilla, you will need to use half a teaspoon of almond extract.

Other flavored extracts

Other extracts will also change the overall flavor of whatever you’re making. Orange, peppermint or coffee extract work well in chocolate cake and other baked goods. Start out by substituting half a teaspoon for every teaspoon of vanilla the recipe calls for. Gradually add in more until the taste is to your liking.

Citrus zest

Lemon zest on black surface with lemon and grater in background.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Citrus zest doesn’t taste like vanilla, but it adds depth to baked goods. Start with half a teaspoon of lemon, orange, lime or grapefruit zest in place of 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Gradually add more, half a teaspoon at a time, until the flavor is to your liking.

Pure maple syrup

Maple syrup has a sweet flavor and aroma similar to vanilla extract. It is best in pancakes, oatmeal cookies and blondies. It can be used as a one-for-one replacement for vanilla extract.


Honey is a common pantry staple that most people have on hand. It adds a bright floral sweetness to desserts and can enhance the texture of baked goods. Honey may alter the taste slightly, and your baked goods may turn out denser and stickier. It browns faster than vanilla extract, so keep a close eye on your baked goods. Honey can be used as a one-for-one vanilla extract substitute.


Brewed coffee, espresso powder or instant coffee works best as a substitute for vanilla extract when making chocolate desserts. Coffee enhances the chocolate flavor and makes it taste richer and more chocolatey. A little goes a long way, so start with a pinch or a drop and gradually add more until the flavor is to your liking.

“Instead of vanilla, whenever I bake anything chocolate, I use room-temperature espresso or strong brewed coffee. It makes the chocolate taste richer and deeper, and it’s a quick and easy swap.”

— Michelle, Honest and Truly


Bourbon and vanilla are both a combination of vanillin and alcohol, so you will get the same sweetness and flavor enhancement with bourbon as when using vanilla. However, when the alcohol evaporates, bourbon has more caramel-like notes. Bourbon can be used as a one-for-one replacement for vanilla extract.


Brandy is sweeter than bourbon and vanilla but can also be used as a substitute. It is best in recipes that contain banana or pumpkin. Brandy can be used as a one-for-one vanilla extract substitute.


Three bottles of Bacardi rum on black background.
Photo credit: Nicolas Pinilla via Unsplash.

Vanilla rum works best, but any dark rum will do. Dark rum is smoky, sweet, spicy and works well with rich flavors such as pineapple and coconut. Rum can be used as a one-for-one replacement for vanilla extract. 

Final thoughts

When using a vanilla extract substitute, it’s important to remember that the recipe may not turn out exactly like the original. Although the flavor and texture may be slightly different, these substitutes work well if you follow the directions carefully. 

This article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

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