Need a cheap & easy substitute for vanilla? Here are the best 15 Vanilla Extract Substitutes and how to use them. Perfect for all of your baking from brownies to cookies, frosting, cheesecake and bread – even ice cream!
Have you seen the cost of vanilla extract lately? The last time I saw vanilla at Costco, it was $36 for 16 ounces of vanilla… say WHAT?!?!
Fear not! Let me explain what you can use as a vanilla extract substitute. Guaranteed, you already have at least one of these in your kitchen!
15 Vanilla Extract Substitutes
1. Vanilla Powder
I’ve purchased this vanilla powder in the past, so don’t let the price deter you. Even when I intentionally make vanilla bean everything (i.e. vanilla bean ice cream and vanilla bean coffee creamer and vanilla bean scones), my one bag is STILL halfway full.
When you’re only using 1/2 to 1 teaspoon at a time, one bag will last a LONG time.
2. Vanilla-infused Milk
I like this idea because it’s so versatile AND dairy picks up flavors really well.
- First, combine milk and vanilla beans in a pot on the stove. How much you use of each depends on how strong you want it to be, but remember that you can dilute the milk if the flavor is too strong and balance that against the expiration date too…
- Next, bring the milk and vanilla just to a simmer. As soon as you see bubbles start to foam on top, turn it off and let it sit until it cools.
- Finally, strain out the vanilla beans and dry them off and you can use them again (store them in the fridge)! Use the milk as a 1:1 ratio instead of vanilla extract.
3. Plant-based Vanilla Milk
Vanilla almond milk is a great way to get vanilla flavor without jumping through a lot of hoops. You’ll want to use this instead of some of the liquid in a recipe… if a recipe calls for milk or water, use this instead!
4. Vanilla Sugar
This is probably the most common, but not my first preference since it’s sugar. But if you already have it on hand, use it! You’ll need 3 times as much vanilla sugar to replace vanilla extract, and be sure to reduce the amount of sugar in your recipe appropriately.
5. Almond extract
You definitely can use a different flavor extract in the place of vanilla extract. Almond extract has a stronger flavor, so use half as much. Also know that you’re more likely to taste the almond flavor in the end. This may or may not be a big deal, but I wanted to let you know!
6. Maple Syrup
When you’re using only 1 tsp in a dozen muffins, no one will notice the difference in taste. Use equal amounts of maple syrup if you go this route.
Similar to maple syrup, you can use honey instead of vanilla extract too!
8. Vanilla-flavored Liqueur
Think of the flavoring syrups that you’d see when a bartender makes a drink from scratch. There are a handful of brands out there, but with the cost of vanilla so high, it might be worth it to keep a bottle of vanilla-flavored liqueur in the liquor cabinet.
Vanilla extract is made from liquor anyway (rum or brandy), so the alcohol content is a moot point. Plus most of the alcohol content evaporates out during the baking process anyway.
If you use vanilla-flavored liqueur as a vanilla extract substitute, use equal amounts as called for in the recipe.
9. Vanilla-flavored Syrups
Think the flavoring syrups you’d see at Starbucks. These are really condensed vanilla-flavored sugar, so you’ll want to adjust the sweetener in the recipe – possibly significantly. These would probably be better suited for recipes where the wet/dry ratio isn’t so volatile, like in brownies or no-bake cookies – or in any liquid recipe.
10. Vanilla Ice Cream
If you’re using vanilla extract to make frozen desserts anyway (i.e. milkshakes or floats or frozen yogurt), then just use vanilla ice cream instead!
Bourbon has a dark smokey flavor that’s very similar to vanilla and would compliment rich baked goods like pecan pie, chocolate cake (made from homemade chocolate cake mix) or gingerbread or molasses breakfast cookies. Use twice the amount called for in recipes.
Use twice the amount called for in recipes and like bourbon, I’d only use this in recipes that call for a small amount of vanilla extract!
13. Other Spices
The whole point of using vanilla is to impart a flavor, but there are other spices that do that too. Instead of using vanilla, try adding cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, or a chai spice mix. Don’t let the need for vanilla extract get in the way – use it as an avenue to try something different!
14. Vanilla Tea
The best results will come from using the tea powder itself, but you can also brew really strong tea. This probably won’t work in every baking situation, but like using other spices, it will work in a pinch and you might create something you really love!
15. Make recipes that don’t require vanilla
This isn’t easy, since vanilla seems to be in EVERYTHING, but be mindful as you try recipes and aim for ones that use very little, if any, vanilla extract.
What NOT to do
Don’t buy imitation vanilla.
The main ingredient for imitation vanilla is “vanillin,” which is a cheap vanilla-like flavor derived from a petrochemical process. If you’re not sure what that is, I explain the dangers of petroleum.
Don’t start omitting vanilla.
Vanilla is to baked goods as coffee is to chocolate – it brings out the best in the other flavors. If you omit entirely, your end result might not turn out too tasty and you’ll waste more money than you would if you just had used the vanilla in the first place. It’s best to one of the many substitution ideas above rather than omitting altogether.
Vanilla extract gives a recipe it’s flavor, and flavor is important. The alternatives to vanilla extract listed above can be used to provide a similar vanilla flavor. Or they can provide alternative flavors that may not taste exactly like the vanilla would taste in the recipe, but still provide a delicious flavor.
I suggest you use a vanilla extract substitute listed above if you do not have vanilla extract on hand. But I don’t recommend that you omit it from a recipe altogether.
Tips & Tricks
- Did you know that you can save up to 77% by making vanilla extract it yourself? Here’s the full tutorial on how to make homemade vanilla extract. You only need three things: vanilla beans, liquor, and a jar.
- If you happen to have any spare vanilla beans (from making homemade vanilla extract) you can make your own vanilla bean powder! Here’s how:
- Grind up used vanilla beans in a cheap coffee grinder like this one and BOOM. Homemade vanilla bean powder ready to substitute for vanilla extract using HALF the amount. That means if your recipe calls for 1 tsp of vanilla extract, you’ll use 1/2 tsp of vanilla powder.
- You can also make your own homemade vanilla syrup if you have vanilla beans.
- Add 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar in a saucepan.
- Split the bean in half and add to the mixture.
- Let it simmer for 15 to 20 minutes and you can use it as a 1:1 substitution for vanilla extract!