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Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, author, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Seattle, WA!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!

Anjali Shah

10 Best Vanilla Extract Substitutes and How to Make Vanilla Extract at Home

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If you’ve ever reached into your pantry for vanilla extract mid way through a recipe only to find you’ve run out, I have 10 easy vanilla extract substitutes and a simple way you can make your own at home!

Vanilla extract substitute - how to make vanilla extract at home

Mmm… vanilla. You can find this delicious flavor in all kinds of desserts and baked goods, but also in breakfast treats like pancakes, waffles, milkshakes, french toast and in savory recipes too! I even add it to my oatmeal!

I usually buy pure vanilla extract from the store, but sometimes when I’m baking or cooking I’ll end up reaching into my cabinet to discover I’m all out of vanilla! Luckily, there are tons of options for super easy vanilla extract substitutes that you likely will have on hand if you find yourself in a baking dilemma without any vanilla extract!

Additionally, you can always make vanilla extract at home, because it’s super simple!

All you need is 8 vanilla beans and Vodka. It is easy to make, but just takes a little patience because it has to sit for at least 1 month to infuse.

So the next time you run out of vanilla, try one of these 10 easy vanilla extract substitutes – and in the meantime start making your own homemade vanilla extract so you always have some on hand in the future!

What Is Vanilla Extract?

Vanilla extract is made by soaking whole vanilla bean pods in alcohol (typically vodka). The rich flavor of the extract comes from the seeds within the pods – they contain a component called vanillin, which is where all the flavor comes from! It has an intense, sweet, aromatic flavor and is a common ingredient used in baking.

Do Vanilla Extract Substitutes Really Work?

Absolutely! If you don’t have vanilla extract, the good news is, depending on what you’re making a variety of different substitutes could be a good option. You may need to substitute for vanilla extract because you’re looking for an alcohol free option, or you’ve simply run out. Either way, this guide will help you find the perfect vanilla extract substitute for all of your cooking and baking needs.

vanilla beans and seeds

10 Easy Vanilla Extract Substitute Options

All of these options can be great vanilla extract substitutes – so I recommend using whatever you have on hand. Keep in mind you won’t always be able to use equal amounts of the replacement as you would vanilla extract depending on the recipe and which of these options you choose.

1. Vanilla Paste or Fresh Vanilla Bean Pods

This might be the best vanilla extract substitute you can use, if you have vanilla beans on hand, since it has the exact same flavor as vanilla extract and won’t change the intended flavor of your recipe. If you’re using vanilla bean paste, you can use it as a 1:1 vanilla substitute. If you’re using fresh vanilla bean, use the seeds from half of a vanilla bean for each teaspoon of vanilla extract a recipe calls for.

2. Vanilla Powder

Vanilla powder has a stronger more pronounced flavor than vanilla extract. It is made from grinding up vanilla beans into a fine powder. In terms of the amount of vanilla powder to use, use half as much as the recipe calls. If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, use 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla powder. Vanilla powder might be the second best substitute for vanilla extract since it comes from vanilla beans.

3. Pure Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is a great substitute for vanilla extract. You can use an equal amount of maple syrup as you would vanilla (1:1 replacement). Since maple syrup has a sweet flavor and vanilla extract does not, you may want to slightly reduce the sugar in your recipe to balance the sweetness. You can also try maple extract which will have a much smaller amount of sugar than maple syrup.

4. Honey

You can use honey the same way you’d use maple syrup in place of the vanilla extract in a recipe. You’d use it as a 1:1 replacement for the amount of vanilla extract a recipe calls for!

Honey similarly to maple syrup can also be a good substitute for vanilla extract. You can sub 1:1 in a baking recipe. Since honey is sweet you will want to reduce the sugar to balance the sweetness.

5. Rum, Brandy, Bourbon or Vanilla Liqueur

Rum, brandy, and bourbon all make a great excellent vanilla extract replacement because they have a slightly sweet aftertaste. When making your own vanilla extract you soak the vanilla beans with vodka, so having an alcohol substitute works well in baking recipes. You can use a 1:1 substitute.

Additionally, since alcohol doesn’t really go bad, you could just keep some vanilla-flavored liqueur in your liquor cabinet since vanilla flavored liqueur has a similar flavor profile to vanilla extract in baking recipes! You can also use it as a 1:1 substitute.

6. Almond Extract

If you have almond extract on hand, this can be a great alternative to real vanilla extract. It adds a nice flavor to baking recipes but will provide a slight nutty flavor rather than vanilla flavor to your sweet recipes. I think it gives a really nice depth of flavor. 

7. Vanilla Essence

Vanilla essence is made from synthetic vanilla (artificial vanilla) instead of the natural vanilla bean that vanilla extract is made from. Therefore, the vanilla taste is not as pronounced. If you use vanilla essence you will need to use twice as much essence. If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon vanilla extract use 2 teaspoons of vanilla essence in place of vanilla extract.

8. Vanilla Flavored Plant Based Milk

It might surprise you to learn that plant based milk with vanilla flavoring makes an excellent vanilla extract alternative! Unsweetened vanilla almond milk, soy milk, or oat milk all work well to replace vanilla extract. You can substitute it in a 1:1 ratio (so if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, use 1 tsp of milk as a substitute).

I haven’t tried making baked goods with vanilla milk (like regular milk infused with vanilla syrup), but I’d imagine that would work as well. But, if you’re making a milkshake or smoothie that calls for vanilla extract, you can use vanilla milk or even vanilla ice cream instead!

9. Instant Coffee or Espresso Powder

This vanilla substitute works the best in chocolate recipes as it brings out the flavor of the chocolate even more! It would also work in savory dishes. You can just add a pinch – you don’t need to do a 1:1 substitute. A little goes a long way!

10. Other Spices or Citrus Zest

If vanilla is isn’t the main ingredient in the recipe (like in a pecan pie, chocolate cake, or other baked good vs. something like vanilla ice cream or vanilla pound cake), you can easily substitute warm spices or citrus zest for to add depth of flavor. Try sweet spices like cinnamon, cardamom, or nutmeg. Pumpkin pie spice would probably also work. Alternatively, add some lemon, lime or orange zest! You don’t need a lot here – try a pinch or two and that should be enough.

Homemade Vanilla Extract Recipe

This is a super easy, step by step process for how to make vanilla extract at home! You just need two ingredients, both of which can be easily found at your local grocery store: vanilla beans and plain vodka!

Step 1: Split the vanilla pods in half lengthwise.

Step 2: Place the vanilla beans in a jar and cover with alcohol, making sure they are completely submerged.

Step 3: Cover the jar and give it a shake.

Step 4: Infuse for at least one month (2 months is great for a stronger flavor) in a cool dark place, shaking it from time to time.

Step 5: Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth when you are ready to pour it into bottles.

vanilla extract substitute - vanilla powder

FAQs

How Important Is Vanilla Extract In A Recipe?

Vanilla extract is not necessary in terms of the structure of a baking recipe. However, leaving it out of a recipe will change the flavor. Vanilla extract enhances the flavor in cookies, cakes, and muffins and other recipes.

Can I make my own vanilla extract?

Yes! If you don’t want to use one of these vanilla extract substitutes, making your own vanilla extract is easy and requires only two ingredients. However, it takes time and patience. You cannot whip up some vanilla extract while you’re baking. It takes at least one month for the vanilla bean paste and alcohol to infuse.

What is the best alcohol to use to make vanilla extract?

Vodka has a neutral flavor that lends itself well to taking on the flavor of vanilla. You can also use rum, brandy or a bottle of bourbon. It is not important to use an expensive alcohol, it’s the alcohol content that matters (80 proof).

How long does homemade vanilla extract last?

Homemade vanilla extract made with vanilla beans and alcohol lasts forever. Vanilla essence or imitation vanilla extract that your purchase will last about 2 years at the most.

Does making your own vanilla extract cost less than store bought?

If you’re talking about pure vanilla extract, then yes! The average cost of vanilla extract at most grocery stores is about $20 for an 8oz bottle – and can increase depending on how pure you want your vanilla extract to be. Homemade vanilla extract can be a great way to save money on this expensive spice.

However, imitation vanilla flavor costs only $6-7 per bottle, so when you’re comparing homemade extract to store bought, make sure you’re looking at the pure variety.

Homemade pure vanilla extract will always be cheaper than store bought pure vanilla extract, because you can make it in large batches (thanks to that indefinite shelf life!) so you will always have some on hand!

Tips for Making Homemade Vanilla Extract

  • Let the beans infuse for at least one month. For best results and an even stronger flavor, wait a few months. Vanilla extract is like wine – the flavor improves with age.
  • There’s no need to use top-shelf alcohol. An inexpensive 80% proof will work fine.
  • Store vanilla extract in a cool, dark place.
  • Feel free to infuse your vanilla with any other flavor extracts you like! Some of our favorites include: peppermint extract, orange extract, lemon extract, and almond extract.
  • As for what type of whole vanilla beans to use — pretty much any type works! You can even blend different varieties of beans to get a more complex flavor.
  • Use your vanilla extract in a variety of recipes – not just for baking! Vanilla is a great ingredient to mix into cocktails, to use in grill marinades, to add to savory sauces (BBQ sauce, tomato sauce, etc), to add to coffee or even smoothies!
vanilla extract substitute - vanilla in a bottle

More Recipes That Use Vanilla Extract!

If you have tried this recipe, then please rate it and let me know how it turned out in the comments below!

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Recipe Card

Vanilla extract with beans on natural background
Print Recipe
5 from 10 votes

Homemade Vanilla Extract (Vanilla Extract Substitute)

Making your own vanilla extract at home is super simple and cost effective. Once you taste homemade vanilla extract, you'll never go back to store-bought! 
Prep Time10 mins
Total Time30 d 10 mins
Course: Baking
Cuisine: American
Diet: Gluten Free, Low Calorie, Vegetarian
Servings: 16 ounces
Calories: 71kcal
Author: Anjali Shah

Ingredients

  • 16 oz Plain Vodka My brother’s girlfriend used Ketel One
  • 8 vanilla beans

Instructions

  • Split the vanilla beans in half lengthwise.
  • Place the vanilla beans in a jar and cover with alcohol, making sure they are completely submerged.
  • Cover the jar and give it a shake.
  • Infuse for at least one month (2 months is great for a stronger flavor) in a cool dark place, shaking it from time to time.
  • Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth when you are ready to pour it into bottles.

Notes

  • Let the beans infuse for at least one month. For an even stronger flavor, wait a few months. Vanilla extract is like wine – the flavor improves with age.
  • There’s no need to use top-shelf alcohol. An inexpensive 80% proof will work fine.
  • Store vanilla extract in a cool, dark place.
  • As for what type of vanilla beans to use — pretty much any type works! You can even blend different varieties of beans to get a more complex flavor.

Nutrition

Calories: 71kcal

Posted In…

Side Dishes ·

These side dishes are tasty enough to be the star of the show!

Try my asparagus crostinis for the perfect accompaniment to your main entree, or double the recipe to turn them into an entire meal.

26 responses to “10 Best Vanilla Extract Substitutes and How to Make Vanilla Extract at Home”

  1. This is such a great recipe to have on hand! I always run out of vanilla extract when I am baking during the holidays; you’ve saved me a trip to the store!5 stars

  2. I didn’t realize it is so easy to make vanilla extract at home! Definitely adding this to my must-try list!5 stars

  3. I decided to make this homemade vanilla extract as holiday gifts this year and everyone said they loved it! Now I have to make more!5 stars

    • Hi Mary! Yes you can! You can reuse them for one other batch. You might want to add in a fresh vanilla bean along with the used vanilla beans into the new batch though, just to pump up the flavor a bit!

  4. This is so great! I had no idea that there were so many substitutes. I will also be making my own now that you’ve shown me the way 🙂5 stars

  5. Hey Anjali,
    I was on here looking for this recipe and thought I’d leave a little note. I’ve been using the vanilla that you gave me from your sister in all my baking recipes and it makes a HUGE difference! I put it in my (from scratch) pancake batter and it adds so much flavor. I usually use that imitation vanilla because I always thought vanilla is vanilla but not anymore. This one is so flavorful. I just ordered my bottles today and I can’t wait to get started on my vanilla.
    Thank you!!

    • Hey Michelle!! It’s so good to hear from you! Wooohooo – I’m so happy this has made all of your baked goods more tasty! That is great to hear, I’m sure my brother’s girlfriend will love to hear this too 🙂 Hope you are doing well!

  6. This is such an amazing idea that I’ve never thought of before! Will definitely be giving this a go soon!

  7. Wow! I can’t believe how simple it looks to make your own vanilla extract. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  8. This is such a great idea! What sort of recipes have you been incorporating this into?

    • Hi Tess! I’ve been using this in all of my oatmeal recipes and in a lot of baked goods like healthy muffins and cookies!

  9. Ok, this is just awesome! Never thought to make my own. Everything homemade is always so much better. I put vanilla in my oatmeal too…sometimes in my smoothies too 😉 Totally have to try this soon! Thanks, Anjali 🙂

    • Thanks Kelly!! I’m so glad you found this helpful! And yeah it’s just so easy to make — as long as you have a little bit of time to wait it out it is totally worth it! Enjoy!

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