Used in cakes, ice cream, pastry, hot drinks, alcoholic drinks, and even savory dishes, vanilla is a versatile ingredient and an essential in any baker’s pantry. Its flavor can be integrated into recipes in various ways. The original and natural form of vanilla bean can however be a pricey ingredient to keep around.
Whether you’ve run out of vanilla extract or need to find a cheaper alternative, we’ve rounded up the best vanilla substitutes for when you’re in a pinch.
Vanilla Bean vs Vanilla Extract
Vanilla is a powerful sweet scent as much as it is a flavor. The extract is most commonly called for in recipes, but there are other products to discover, including vanilla sugar and syrup.
When it comes to baking and cooking the three purest products to work with are pure vanilla extract, paste, and the bean pods.
The beans are the main ingredient in both the extract and paste. Although it is one of the most expensive spices, the bean pods are the ultimate choice for adding the authentic flavor to baked goods, ice cream, sauces, and custards.
The spice pods grow off an orchid plant species, picked when they are still green, shocked in hot water, and then dried for up to six months. They then appear as long waxy dark brown pods filled with tiny brown specks.
When purchasing the pods, you want to ensure they are plump and smooth with a fragrant smell and not too dry.
The extract is made when the beans are steeped in alcohol and water to infuse their flavor into the liquid. The extract is fairly easy to find and affordable which makes it a popular option in baking.
Imitation versions made from artificial flavorings are also available. These are referred to as vanilla essence and tend to have a weaker and sometimes tinny taste.
Vanilla Bean Paste
The paste is simply the inner specks of the pod scraped out and jarred. Essentially, it is just slightly less work than scraping out the pods yourself.
Vanilla bean paste can include a type of binder such as corn syrup or invert sugar which may make it necessary to adjust the level of sweetness in your recipe. It is ideal for ice cream, cookies, frosting, and milkshakes.
How to Replace Vanilla Extract for Beans or Paste
The extract or paste brand you use can vary in intensity. If you have a recipe that calls for vanilla beans, use the following as a guideline:
- 1 teaspoon extract = one 2-inch piece of vanilla bean
- 1 Tablespoon extract = one vanilla bean
The paste usually includes directions on the jar as a substitute equivalent guide.
Best Vanilla Bean Replacement
#1. Vanilla Powder
Vanilla powder is made by pulverizing the dried bean pods. The powder does not contain any alcohol, which makes it great to use in puddings and custards.
Some brands add a sweetening agent to the final product so check the label when using the powder to determine whether you need to adjust the sweetness in your recipe.
Replacement quantity: Use 2 teaspoons of the powder to replace one bean.
#2. Vanilla Sugar
Vanilla sugar is usually available at baking shops. It is made of white sugar mixed with the dark specks found inside the bean pods to impart spiced flavor. When using vanilla sugar in your recipe you will need to adjust the total amount of sugar as the substitute will add extra sweetness.
Substitute quantity: Use 1 to 2 teaspoons of vanilla sugar to replace one bean. Reduce the amount of plain sugar used in your recipe by the same amount of vanilla sugar added. If you are using 2 teaspoons of vanilla sugar as a substitute, add 2 fewer teaspoons of regular sugar when measuring your other dry ingredients.
#3. Vanilla Flavored Milk
If your recipe calls for regular milk, you can replace it with vanilla-flavored milk instead. Almond, soy, dairy, or other vanilla-flavored milk are all equally good to use. If the flavored milk is sweetened, you may want to adjust the overall sugar or sweetener content of your recipe.
Substitute quantity: Use vanilla-flavored dairy, almond, or soy milk instead of plain milk in your recipe. This will serve as a milk and vanilla extract substitute in one. Alternatively, add a tablespoon of flavored milk in place of extract. The flavor will however be very subtle and will not be suitable if you require a pronounced vanilla flavor.
#4. Vanilla Rum
Vanilla rum may actually be the best substitute for vanilla extract, since it is similarly made of vanilla-infused alcohol.
Replacement quantity: Use the same amount of rum as you would extract.
Best Non-Vanilla Replacement for Vanilla Beans
Whether you have an allergy or just don’t particularly like the floral taste of vanilla, there are a few non-vanilla substitutes you can turn to. These substitutes don’t actually come from vanilla, are less floral in taste, but still give a similar overall flavor profile.
Bourbon has a similar warm flavor to vanilla making it a great alternative.
Substitute quantity: Use bourbon measure for measure as a replacement.
#6. Maple Syrup
Maple syrup does not taste exactly the same, but it is sweet and has a warm caramel-like undertone which makes it a suitable replacement. When using maple syrup as an alternative, keep in mind that it is very sweet and sticky.
Using small amounts such as one or 2 teaspoons should not affect your recipe if you are baking a cake, a batch of cookies, or cupcakes. However, if you require a large amount, the maple syrup can affect the consistency and sweetness of your batter, sauce, or dessert.
Substitute quantity: Use 1 to 1½ teaspoons of maple syrup for every teaspoon of vanilla extract required.
#7. Almond Extract
Almond extract is a good replacement to use in baking, with a similar nutty taste. Almond extract has a strong flavor that can be overpowering and unpleasant when too much is used, especially in frostings, glazes, and custards.
Substitute quantity: Substitute 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract for 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract in cakes and baking recipes. When it comes to frosting and sauces, add a few drops only and adjust according to taste.
Coffee can be used as a vanilla alternative in chocolate recipes. Due to the chocolate flavor, the coffee taste won’t be too pronounced but it will add a warm undertone. Mix black instant coffee powder with water or use strongly brewed coffee in place of vanilla essence in chocolate brownie, chocolate cake, or cookie recipes.
Substitute quantity: Use brewed coffee measure for measure as a substitute.
Honey does not taste like vanilla but it can add floral sweetness to baked items. Honey also comes in different varieties so you may find that some types of honey impart a different flavor than others. Honey can be used to replace a small amount of extract in most recipes.
Substitute quantity: Replace vanilla extract measure for measure with honey.
Brandy is tasty in frosting, sauces, or baked recipes adding the similar warm, sweet notes that are present in vanilla. Keep in mind that an alcohol taste may be detectable when used in uncooked recipes such as frostings.
Substitute quantity: Replace the extract measure for measure with brandy where small quantities are required.
Out of vanilla mid-bake? Don’t worry! There are plenty of alternatives you can use if you have run out. If you have some vanilla-flavored milk, vanilla rum, or regular brandy on hand, they’re ideal to use as substitutes in baked goods or sauces that will be heated to a high temperature.
Vanilla beans are expensive, but you can save some money by making your own extract. Although this takes two months to develop, it will last you plenty of bakes and impart an authentic rich and sweet taste to your recipes.
It’s amazing how one or two teaspoons of vanilla can transform any recipe. If you have run out we recommend you use a substitute rather than completely omitting it to ensure a full-bodied, warm, and rich flavor, regardless of what you are baking.
*image by NewAfrica/depositphotos