5 Unique Vanilla Extract Substitutes for Baking

Vanilla extract is one of the most commonly used baking ingredients available. It is used to add flavor and aroma in cakes, cookies, custards and many other baking applications. However, it can be quite expensive and it’s not always readily available.

Whatever the circumstance, if you’ve found yourself void of vanilla extract, there are some noteworthy substitutes chefs have been using for ages.

Below we’ve outlined our 5 favorite vanilla extract substitutes for baking. Each will contribute its own unique characteristics. We encourage you to experiment and find what works best for you.

Consider Beforehand

If you find yourself perusing the internet for vanilla extract substitutes, make sure you understand what the vanilla extract is being used for. We found a lot of cases where articles did not put this into consideration and mixed together all vanilla extract applications.

While there is some overlap with baking and non-baking substitutions, use your best judgment in making sure the ingredient in question has qualities you’re looking for in the dish.

To make this article as straightforward as possible, we stuck with baking applications.

1) Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is easily the safest ingredient swap you can make for vanilla extract. While the flavors aren’t completely the same, the intensity of these flavors is very similar. Most maple syrups exhibit a mixture of vanilla, caramel, and dried fruit.

It’s also one of the easiest ingredients to swap in. Whatever quantity of vanilla extract the recipe calls for, replace it 1:1 with maple syrup. If you’re looking for sweet and savory flavor, make sure to invest in a minimally processed, organic maple syrup.

2) Honey

Another thick, sweet syrup, honey makes for a very effective substitute for vanilla extract. Again, the flavors won’t be exact, but the final product will still boast a lovely sweetness and complexity.

There are an endless list of honey varieties to choose from. If you’re looking for something sweet that is pretty neutral in flavor, go with a clover honey. If you’re looking for a little more zest, you can try the wildflower honey.

Use the exact quantity of honey as you would vanilla extract.

3) Bourbon or Brandy

This one surprised you didn’t it? Behind that powerful punch of alcohol, there is a beverage busting with rustic flavors. Bake it long enough and the alcohol will evaporate, leaving all those beautiful flavors behind.

Again, use the same amount you’d use of vanilla extract. Chances are, it’ll depend on the recipe. You can always adjust the ratio next time around.

4) Imitation Vanilla

Rumor has it, vanilla flavoring comes from beaver anal secretions. While this makes for a disgusting, and slightly intriguing tale, this type of manufacturing is extremely inefficient and only accounts for a tiny fraction of the vanilla flavoring produced.

Wherever your vanilla flavoring came from, it is a very suitable vanilla extract replacement in most baked goods. From what we’ve heard, imitation vanilla flavor is much less distinguishable from real vanilla when baking goods at higher temperatures.

Swap using a 2:1 ratio. Meaning you should add 2 teaspoons of imitation vanilla for every 1 teaspoon vanilla extract the recipe calls for.

If you’re really looking for that authentic vanilla flavor, you really can’t replace true vanilla extract. It’s one of the reasons why it’s so expensive. But if you’re caught in a tight spot and you have some imitation vanilla on hand, you can still make it work.

5) Almond Extract

Despite our initial thoughts, Almond extract seems to be a worthy substitute for vanilla extract. It adds a floral complexity that is hard to put your finger on but pleasant nonetheless.

Something to be very mindful of is that almond extract is much more potent than its long lost vanilla cousin. We recommend starting with half what the recipe calls for in vanilla extract and adjusting accordingly the next time you cook.

All in All

All in all, we believe there is no perfect substitute for vanilla extract in baking but there are some worthy alternatives. Giving any of these ingredient swaps a try will, at the very least, diversify your cooking skills and broaden your culinary knowledge. Let us know what your favorite vanilla extract substitute is!

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