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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 Substitutes For Vanilla Extract

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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 substitutes for vanilla extract to try instead!

A side shot of a glass bottle of homemade vanilla extract with beans in it.

I love vanilla in just about anything! I use it in baked goods, pancakes, waffles, milkshakes, smoothies, oatmeal, french toast, and in savory recipes too!

But the worst is when you are already in the middle of baking or cooking, and you reach into your cabinet to discover that you’re all out of vanilla! Luckily, there are tons of options for super easy vanilla extract substitutes that are typically pantry staples, that you can use if you find yourself in a baking dilemma without any pure vanilla extract.

Additionally, you can always make your own extract at home, because it’s super simple: just fill a large jar with whole vanilla beans, vodka, and let it sit for 2 months. (Learn More: How To Make Vanilla Extract). 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.

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

Do Substitutes For Vanilla Extract Work?

Absolutely! The good news is that if you don’t have vanilla, 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 substitute for all of your cooking and baking needs.

10 Best Vanilla Extract Substitutes

All of these are great vanilla extract alternatives – 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 in a 1:1 sub, depending on the recipe and which of these options you choose.

1. Best Overall: 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 the extract and won’t change the intended flavor of your recipe.

How To Substitute: If you’re using real vanilla bean paste, you can use it as a 1:1 replacement for vanilla extract. If you’re using fresh vanilla bean, use the seeds from half of a vanilla bean for each teaspoon of vanilla a recipe calls for. So if a recipe calls for two teaspoons of vanilla extract, use 1 whole vanilla bean’s seeds as a substitute. It will taste just like the real thing!

2. Second Best Overall: Vanilla Powder

Vanilla powder has a stronger more pronounced flavor than the extract, and is also an excellent substitute option. It is made from grinding up vanilla beans or vanilla pods into a fine powder. In terms of the amount of vanilla powder to use, use half as much as the recipe calls.

How To Substitute: If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, use 1/2 a teaspoon of ground vanilla beans. Vanilla powder might be the second best substitute for vanilla extract since it comes from vanilla beans.

3. Best Option For Baked Goods: Pure Maple Syrup Or Vanilla Sugar

Real maple syrup or vanilla sugar are both great replacements for vanilla extract. Since maple syrup has a sweet flavor and the extract of vanilla beans 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.

How To Substitute: You can use an equal amount of maple syrup or vanilla sugar as you would vanilla (1:1 replacement). Feel free to adjust the rest of the sugar in the recipe as needed.

4. Best Pantry Staple Substitute For Vanilla: Honey

You can use honey the same way you’d use maple syrup in place of the vanilla extract in a recipe, and the nice thing is it can literally be found at any grocery store. Since honey is sweet you will want to reduce the sugar to balance the sweetness.

How To Substitute: Use honey as a 1:1 replacement for the amount of vanilla a recipe calls for!

5. Best Sugar Free Vanilla Substitute: Rum, Brandy, Bourbon Or Vanilla Liqueur 

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

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 the pure extract in baking recipes!

How To Substitute: You can use alcohol or liqueurs as a 1:1 sub for vanilla extract in any recipe.

6. Best Extract Option: Almond Extract

If you have almond extract on hand, this can be a great alternative to 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. 

How To Substitute: Use it as a 1:1 substitute for vanilla extract in any recipe.

7. Best For Light Vanilla Flavor: Vanilla Essence

Vanilla essence is made from synthetic vanilla (artificial vanilla) instead of the natural vanilla bean that the 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.

How To Substitute: If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of vanilla use 2 teaspoons of vanilla essence to substitute for vanilla extract.

8. Best Vegan Friendly Option: 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 real vanilla extract.

I haven’t tried making baked goods with vanilla milk (like regular milk infused with vanilla syrup), but I’d imagine that any vanilla-flavored milk (even cow’s milk) should work. But, if you’re making a milkshake or smoothie that calls for vanilla flavor, you can use vanilla milk or even vanilla ice cream instead!

How To Substitute: Use as a vanilla replacement in a 1:1 ratio (so if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of the extract, use 1 tsp of milk as a substitute).

9. Best For Chocolate Recipes: Instant Coffee Or Espresso Powder

This is a great substitute for vanilla in chocolate recipes as it brings out the flavor of the chocolate even more! It would also work in savory dishes.

How To Substitute: You can just add a pinch of this to any recipe calling for vanilla – you don’t need to do a 1:1 substitute. A little goes a long way!

10. Best For Different Flavors: 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 goods vs. something like vanilla ice cream or pound cakes), 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!

How To Substitute: Use your judgement here! You likely won’t need a lot — likely just 1/2 the amount of the vanilla called for, or as little as a pinch. Start with a pinch or two and add more if you feel like the recipe needs it!


Do you need vanilla extract for cookies?

Vanilla extract is optional in cookies, but it will typically enhance the flavors of the other ingredients in any cookie recipe. That said, if you don’t have the extract, I recommend using maple syrup as a vanilla extract substitute for cookies – as it’ll provide both sweetness and flavor to your recipe.

Can you bake without vanilla extract?

Technically yes, you can omit vanilla extract from any baking recipe, since it’s not necessary in order for your baked goods to hold their structure. But, leaving vanilla out will make your baked goods taste different, so I’d recommend using one of these substitutes for vanilla extract instead!


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 extract while you’re baking. It takes at least one month for the vanilla bean paste and alcohol to infuse.

Is imitation vanilla extract a good substitute for pure vanilla extract?

It depends on what you’re looking for in terms of flavor. Artificial vanilla (or vanilla essence) has a less rich and complex flavor than authentic vanilla, which means it won’t give your recipes the same deep flavor that pure vanilla will. However, you can use it as a substitute, but we recommend using it in a 2:1 ratio of the amount of vanilla called for in a recipe.

More Recipes With Vanilla Extract!

8 responses to “10 Best Substitutes For Vanilla Extract”

  1. These are all great options should you need to substitute for vanilla extract. I have bookmarked for future reference.

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