Whether you've run out of vanilla, or just want a cheap and easy vanilla alternative, I've got you covered. Here are 23 Vanilla Extract Substitutes that you can use in all kinds of things from cookies to cakes, drinks, candies, ice cream, and more!
There are several reasons why this list of vanilla extract alternatives is going to quickly become your next best friend.
First of all, it's always a pain to run out of vanilla in the middle of baking / cooking.
Second, have you seen the cost of vanilla extract lately? It's pure insanity!
Anyhow...don't panic! There are solutions, and more likely you have at least one of these vanilla substitutes in your pantry right now.
Why Is Vanilla So Expensive?
There are several reasons for these terribly high costs.
Hard to Grow
Vanilla is simply hard to grow. The vines take 2-4 years to grow and their blossoms only bloom one day out of the year! So for the plant to produce, the flowers need to be pollinate on exactly that day! Crazy, huh?
Since vanilla is in high demand, thieves often steal beans, adding to the high cost and to farmers refusing to grow in the future. In fact, theft can be such a problem that some companies "tattoo" their beans so that they are identifiable in the case that they are stolen.
Vanilla crops are subject to damage from extreme weather and farmers don't want to take the risk of growing, knowing that this can easily happen.
In the 1980's, imitation vanilla took over the market, so many farmers stopped growing vanilla. Now that demand is starting again, it's taking awhile for farmers to enter the market again.
But never fear---there are other options! And most likely you have at least one of these in your pantry right now.
Never Need a Vanilla Alternative Again
Before we get into all of these great options, you can do something simple right now to insure you never run out of vanilla again (and save some money while you're at it)--making your own homemade vanilla extract!
It's super easy and also fun to see the transformation over time.
All you need are three things: vanilla beans, liquor (or glycerin), and a container.
You simply put the beans and liquor or glycerin in a container and let it steep for 4-6 months. The instructions for making regular vanilla are basically identical, so you can read this post on making your own alcohol-free vanilla for all the details on making it either way.
It does take a little while to make your own vanilla extract, however, so to help you now for when you've run out of vanilla, or if you'd just like a cheaper option, here are a bunch of vanilla extract substitutes for you!
Vanilla Extract Alternatives
This might surprise you, but it's true--maple syrup can be a real substitute for vanilla
It has a similar sweet aroma, and it does a pretty good job of mimicking vanilla’s slightly smoky flavor. Try using the same amount of maple syrup as you would vanilla for extra flavor and so you don't end up making your dish too sweet.
For help selecting a maple syrup grade, see this post.
Almond extract is often less expensive than vanilla (especially these days) and it has a similar nutty aroma. It's stronger than vanilla, however, so only use about half the of the amount of vanilla that the recipe calls for. Save even more money!
Vanilla Almond (or other dairy-free) Milk
If your recipe calls for any kind of milk, use vanilla flavored almond or other dairy-free milk instead. You will likely want to reduce the amount of sweetener as well, since vanilla-flavored milks have some sweetener in them.
Honey doesn't taste exactly like vanilla of course, but quality honey has a slightly floral essence similar to that of vanilla. It's a good option in a pinch for just a hint of flavor.
Vanilla-flavored simple syrup is also a great vanilla substitute.
You can buy it of for an easy DIY version, add vanilla to this Keto Simple Syrup Recipe.
Got some kahlua in your cabinet? It makes a great flavorful one-for-one replacement for vanilla in your favorite recipe.
Fiori di Sicilia
Fiori di Sicilia is an extract that contains vanilla, citrus, and flower essences. It's a fantastic substitute, but it's just not that readily available. For every 1 tsp vanilla, use 1/2 tsp of this.
Another great substitute for vanilla extract is vanilla powder--and it's a great sustainable choice too! You can buy it, but also, after making your own homemade vanilla, you can take the used beans and make your own powder!
Simply grind up the beans in a coffee or spice grinder (I personally have and love this grinder), and there you have it--Vanilla Powder!
*Use 1/4 to 1/2 the amount of powder as you would vanilla. If you are buying vanilla powder, you'll only use about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon at a time, so even though it's pricey, one bag will last a LONG time.
If you're making a treat that calls for vanilla extract, try substituting instant coffee, espresso powder, or a little strong-brewed coffee instead and you won't just might not miss the vanilla at all!
If you opt for the espresso powder, just use a tiny bit since a little goes a very long way.
Orange (and other) Extracts
It's true--orange extract and even peppermint and lemon extract can be used as alternatives for vanilla extract. They will, of course, change the flavor of the finished recipe more than almond will, so make sure to pick a flavor that will complement the rest of the recipe.
For example, in this recipe for Soft Pumpkin Cookies, you could have fun substituting orange or lemon for the vanilla extract, but I wouldn't recommend peppermint. (Mint Pumpkin Cookies? No thanks.)
Replace the vanilla with an equal amount of these alternatives since these are less strong than almond extract.
Vanilla Ice Cream
If the vanilla is for a dessert like a milkshake, frozen drink, or float, etc., simply use vanilla ice cream and you won't miss the vanilla one bit!
Vanilla tea or even fun flavors like vanilla chai would make a great vanilla alternative. Start by substituting in the same amount, adding a little at a time, depending on the recipe, so you don't add too much liquid.
You can make a tea concentrate by brewing the tea in a small amount of water.
Coffee Creamers or Syrups
Coffee flavorings make a great vanilla extract substitute. They come in a wide variety of flavors so choose accordingly or stick with traditional vanilla. If you're up for a little adventure, try something new like this Pumpkin Spice Creamer.
Typically, you can freely vanilla sugar for vanilla extract. Use 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla sugar for each teaspoon of vanilla extract.
If vanilla isn’t the main focus of your recipe, it’s likely added give more depth of flavor to your dish. You could try using another spice, like cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, cloves, or a blend like this Pumpkin Pie Spice.
All of these, especially cloves, can be pretty strong, so start with a small amount and work your way up from there.
This isn't the cheapest option, but it works and if you simply MUST have vanilla, it's cheaper than running to the store! If you happen to have vanilla beans in your house but haven't made vanilla extract yet, you have just what you need.
One vanilla bean equals about 1 tablespoon of vanilla, so for one teaspoon, scrape out one third of a vanilla bean pod and use it as a for each 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
Bourbon often has a warm vanilla-like flavor that makes it the perfect substitute for vanilla in a recipe. In fact, bourbon is often used to make vanilla extract so it's a natural fit.
Brandy is also sometimes used to make vanilla extract, making it another great vanilla extract alternative. Brandy as a vanilla substitute is delicious in frostings, glazes and syrups, where you can really savor the warm flavor.
There are so many vanilla-flavored liquors from run to vodka, to amaretto, and more. As with the other alcohol-based alternatives, use the same amount of these as vanilla amount that is called for.
Using lime, lemon, orange, or grapefruit zest is a great way to add a burst of flavor to your baked goods that will more than make up for any vanilla you might be lacking. Adding juice isn't optimal since it's acidic, plus you'll have to use so much it will water down your finished product.
I recommend only using organic fruit since that part of the fruit will have the most chemicals and pesticides.
Vanilla Bean Paste
Vanilla bean paste is a great option if you happen to have it around, but it is very intense so make sure to measure it carefully. Use it as a 1:1 substitute for vanilla extract.
Vanilla Flavor / Essence
So how about just using Artificial Vanilla Flavor or Essence? While this is for sure the most obvious substitute for vanilla, these are both made from synthetic ingredients so I don't personally recommend them, but feel free if it works for you!
Just Leave It Out!
So this is the most frugal option of all. Don't have vanilla? Just don't use it and move on with life.
I hope these vanilla extract alternatives come in handy for the next time you don't have vanilla on hand! I'd love to hear how they work for you!