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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

5 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 5 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. It has to be one of my most favorite flavors in baking and sweet treats. I even add it to my oatmeal!

I usually buy pure vanilla extract from the store, but when I found out how easy it was to make it at home I was inspired to share the recipe with all of you.

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

That’s why I’ve also included 5 easy vanilla extract substitutes so that if you find yourself in a baking dilemma without any vanilla extract you have some options and don’t need to wait a month for your homemade vanilla extract to infuse!

5 Easy Vanilla Extract Substitutes

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.

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.

Rum or Brandy

Both rum and brandy are an 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.

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 recipes. I think it gives a really nice depth of flavor. 

Vanilla Essence

Vanilla essence is made from synthetic vanilla instead of the natural vanilla bean that vanilla extract is made from. Therefore, the vanilla flavor 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 of vanilla extract use 2 teaspoons of vanilla essence in place of vanilla extract.

Vanilla Powder or Vanilla Paste

Vanilla powder has a stronger more pronounced flavor than vanilla extract. When using vanilla powder 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 and vanilla essence might be the best substitute for vanilla extract since they have natural vanilla flavoring.

vanilla beans and seeds

How to Make Vanilla Extract at Home – Step by Step

Step 1: Split the vanilla beans 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

Is vanilla extract necessary in baking?

Vanilla extract is not necessary in terms of the structure 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 use honey instead of vanilla extract?

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.

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. 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!

Top 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 vanilla extract recipe, or any other recipe on my blog, then please rate it and let me know how it turned out in the comments below! You can also FOLLOW ME on FACEBOOKTWITTER, INSTAGRAM  and PINTEREST to see more delicious, healthy, family friendly food!

Vanilla extract with beans on natural background
Print Recipe
5 from 4 votes

How to make Vanilla Extract at Home (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
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

Top Tips for Making Homemade Vanilla Extract
  • Let the bean 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

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