"Disclaimer: Thank you for reading our post and in full transparency, we may earn an affiliate commission when you buy products through our links. This will not cost you anything extra, but the small commission we receive helps keep funding our reviews and articles."
Best Vanilla Extract Substitutes

The 8 Best Vanilla Extract Substitutes

We all love that delicious hint of vanilla that vanilla extract can bring out in a variety of recipes. Vanilla extract is a staple ingredient in households all over the world. But unfortunately, sometimes it’s just not available to us. 

Perhaps you’re thinking twice about the rising cost of pure vanilla extract or want to eliminate alcohol from your diet completely. Whatever your reasoning, this list provides 8 brilliant vanilla extract substitutes that have a variety of flavor, affordability, convenience and dietary benefits.

Vanilla extract is an extremely popular ingredient, especially in Western baking and dessert recipes. It is created through the maceration and percolation of vanilla pods in an ethanol and water solution. Pure vanilla extract must contain at least 35% alcohol for it to quality as pure.

Unlike artificial vanilla flavorings, vanilla extract is dark brown in color because of the brown vanilla pods it is made from. As such, it is important to make sure your vanilla extract is brown rather than clear in color to ensure you’re working with authentic vanilla.

There is also a noticeable difference in taste. Despite its sweet smell, the flavor of authentic vanilla extract is rather potent and bitter because of its alcohol content. However, once, cooked in a recipe, it loses its bitter quality and gives the food that delicious floral flavor we know and love.

Is vanilla extract vegan?

Yes, the vegans among you will be happy to hear that most vanilla extract varieties are 100% vegan-friendly. Vanilla extract is made from vanilla pods, ethanol and water, meaning that no animal products enter the equation.

In the past, vanilla extract and other flavorings sometimes included the use of castoreum (secreted from the anal glands of beavers… which is pretty gross if nothing else), but it’s extremely rare these days, even in artificial vanilla flavorings. If you want to be safe, simply check the label before you buy to make sure nothing out of the ordinary is included. 

Is vanilla extract halal/teetotal friendly?

This is a bit more of a grey area. While vanilla extract does contain around 35% alcohol, only a few teaspoons are required for most recipes.

This is certainly nowhere enough to get you drunk or even tipsy, and most sources occur that it is still halal, but you may want to avoid it all the same if you’re going for total abstinence.

How healthy (or unhealthy) is it?

With 288 calories per 100g and a high alcohol concentration, vanilla extract could be considered “unhealthy” if used in large quantities. However, most recipes will only call for a few teaspoons at most, making this a perfectly healthy addition to your dessert dishes.

In fact, vanilla extract contains a compound called vanillin that is known for its antioxidant properties. Vanilla extract also has numerous other potential health benefits, including antidepressant properties, antibacterial properties and small amounts of magnesium and potassium, which are essential minerals for one’s health. All in all, vanilla extract is healthier than it is unhealthy when used in moderation.

Nutritional Breakdown

Vanilla extract

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

288 kcal

14 %

Total fat

0.1 g

0 %

Saturated fat

-

0 %

Carbohydrates

13 g

4 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

9 mg

0 %

Protein

0.1 g

0 %

Potassium

148 mg

4 %

(Based on nutritional information on vanilla extract from USDA.)

What recipes are vanilla extract used in?

As we previously mentioned, vanilla extract is considered an essential ingredient for a wide variety of dessert recipes. Vanilla extract is commonly used in everything from cakes, cookies and brownies to frosting, ice cream and milkshakes. It is a highly versatile ingredient and allows for endless kitchen creativity.  

Why do we need vanilla extract substitutes?

So if vanilla extract is so tasty, versatile and vegan-friendly, then why would we want to substitute it out in the first place? Well, for a couple main reasons.

Firstly, vanilla extract can be surprisingly expensive. 80% of the world’s vanilla comes from the country of Madagascar, which has perfect conditions for its growth, but the process of growing vanilla is a long, sensitive and difficult one. What’s more, vanilla extract is more popular than ever and vanilla bean supply is dwindling, which is driving prices even higher than they already were. The average price of vanilla extract today is around $500 per gallon – not cheap! So naturally if you’re shopping on a budget, you may want to look for a more affordable substitute.

Secondly, although only a small amount of vanilla extract’s alcohol will make its way into your recipes, some may still want to avoid it for religious or health-related reasons.

Or perhaps you simply forgot to pick up some vanilla extract at the store and want something more convenient to use in its place. But no matter what the case may, this list has something for everyone, with convincing substitutes with great health, taste, affordability and convenience benefits.

Note:

🌱 = vegan

 🥛 / 🌱 = dairy and vegan options

1. Vanilla-flavored milk 🥛 / 🌱

Vanilla-flavored milk

If you’re all out of vanilla extract but happen to have a carton of vanilla-flavored milk sitting around in the fridge, this can be a great alternative to the real thing. You can replace some or all of the milk or water in your recipe with vanilla-flavored milk, depending on how strong the vanilla flavor of your vanilla milk is.

Advantages

Vanilla-flavored milk is a highly versatile and convenient alternative to vanilla extract. It’s usually pretty easy to find vanilla-flavored milk in your local grocery store, and if you already have some in your fridge, even better!

Naturally, since this milk is created to taste like vanilla, it will give your baked goods a convincing, delicious vanilla flavor. There are some flavor disadvantages that we’ll discuss in the following section, but overall this makes a great flavor substitute if you’re not too bothered about achieving the same complex flavor profile as you get with vanilla extract.

Vanilla-flavored milk will also typically be much more affordable than vanilla extract, making it a great option if you’re on a budget. There are some disadvantages that come along with the lower price, but it remains a convincing alternative all the same.

This substitute also comes in both dairy-based and dairy-free varieties, making it a viable option for dairy lovers and vegans alike. Plus, if you’re substituting out your vanilla extract because of its alcohol, you have nothing to worry about here. Unlike vanilla extract, vanilla-flavored milk is usually 100% alcohol free. Just check the label to be absolutely sure it fits your dietary requirements.

Disadvantages

The main problem with vanilla-flavored milk is that it is often artificially flavored, unlike vanilla extract which is created from pure vanilla beans and ethanol. While you may be able to find some higher quality varieties, many others avoid extra expense by using vanilla flavoring rather than real vanilla extract. However, if you don’t mind a taste that’s a little less authentic and pure, this remains a great option that will add a recognizably vanilla flavor to your baked goods.  

You may also have to play around with the proportions a bit to get just the right amount of vanilla flavoring. Vanilla-flavored milk will obviously be a lot milder than vanilla extract, so sub out some of your liquid ingredients for a higher percentage of vanilla milk until you achieve your desired flavor.

Nutritional breakdown

Vanilla-flavored milk

Amount (per 100 ml)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

57 kcal

3 %

Total fat

1.8 g

3 %

Saturated fat

0.3 g

2 %

Sugars

6.7 g

6.7 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

140 mg

2 %

Protein

3 g

5 %

Calcium

120 mg

12 %

(Based on nutritional information for Alpro Soya Vanilla Flavored Milk.)

2. Vanilla bean paste 🌱 

Vanilla bean paste

If vanilla extract isn’t available to you, why not get your hands on the next best thing? Vanilla paste is often just as pure and flavorsome as its extract counterpart. Vanilla paste is essentially vanilla extract in a thicker form, with a consistency comparable to that of maple syrup. To use, simply add the same of vanilla paste as the amount of vanilla extract called for by your recipe.

Advantages

Now there’s one thing about vanilla paste that we think makes it even better than vanilla extract in many cases. Unlike vanilla extract, you can usually see fine brown specks directly from the vanilla beans it’s made from in the paste itself. This can look beautiful in your baked goods and visually shows your guests that authentic vanilla flavoring has been used rather than the artificial stuff. As they say – the proof is in the pudding!

Along with its lovely texture, the flavor of vanilla paste is almost indistinguishable from the flavor of vanilla extract, which makes sense if you think of it as a thicker variety of vanilla extract. Just like vanilla extract, it contains real, pure vanilla beans for that full authentic flavor experience.  

Disadvantages

Unfortunately, the convincing flavor of vanilla paste does come with the same downsides as you get with vanilla extract. Because real vanilla beans have been used – often in a high percentage if you get the high-quality stuff – it will inevitably be on the pricey side. In fact, it is often even more expensive than vanilla extract, so this isn’t a great option if you’re looking for something more affordable.

Vanilla paste is also not much more convenient to use than vanilla extract, as vanilla extract is a more commonly used ingredient and more likely to be found in your pantry. However, it’s typically easy enough to pick up from your local grocery store, and if you already happen to have some handy then you’ve got nothing to lose.

Nutritional breakdown

Vanilla bean paste

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

226 kcal

12 %

Total fat

-

0 %

Saturated fat

-

0 %

Carbohydrates

47 g

20 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

-

0 %

Protein

-

0 %

(Based on nutritional information for Taylor and Coleridge Organic Vanilla Bean Paste.)

3. Vanilla powder 🌱 

Vanilla powder

Vanilla powder is another great option if you want an unparalleled flavor match to vanilla extract. In fact, the flavor of vanilla powder is even more concentrated than the flavor of vanilla extract, meaning you typically only need to use half as much.

Advantages

Vanilla powder is essentially a purer, more concentrated version of vanilla extract. That’s because while vanilla extract uses ethanol as a carrier to hold the flavor of the vanilla beans, vanilla powder is made directly from ground vanilla beans with no carrier or diluting ingredients. What does that mean in terms of flavor? A more pure, intense vanilla flavor without the taste of alcohol or any other carriers.

Because vanilla powder is stronger than vanilla extract, you can also get by using much less. Simply add 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla powder for every 1 teaspoon called for by your recipe.

You may have already caught onto this, but because vanilla powder does not use ethanol as a carrier like vanilla extract does, it also does not contain any alcohol. So if you’re looking to avoid alcohol altogether but still want that authentic vanilla taste, this is the best option for you.

Disadvantages

As with all pure vanilla products, vanilla powder is unfortunately on the expensive side. Because vanilla powder is made from pure vanilla beans with no added ingredients or carriers, it can be much more expensive than vanilla extract. However, the plus side – if you can afford to splash out – is that you’re definitely paying for high quality stuff that will taste delicious in your recipes.

Nutritional breakdown

Vanilla powder

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

303 kcal

15 %

Total fat

-

0 %

Saturated fat

-

0 %

Carbohydrates

65 g

25 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

100 mg

1 %

Protein

3.4 g

6 %

(Based on nutritional information for Gourmet Spice Company Vanilla Powder.)


4. Vanilla beans (make your own powder) 🌱

Vanilla beans

If you don’t have any vanilla pastes, powders or liquids about, making your own vanilla powder can be a great option. It’s super easy to make and cheaper than buying it pre-made.

To make, simply grind vanilla beans in any kind of coffee grinder (food processors can often work too) and use half as much of your powder as the amount of vanilla extract called for your recipe. In other words, use 1/2 teaspoon of your powder for every 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract called for. 

Advantages

When you buy pre-made vanilla powder, you’re also paying for the labor involved in grinding and processing the vanilla beans. That’s why buying and grinding your own vanilla beans is a perfect option if you want a high-quality vanilla extract alternative without paying more than you need to.

The best part? You still get all the amazing benefits of using vanilla powder without getting such a hefty price tag along with it. When you buy your own vanilla beans, you know for certain that your powder will be fresh, high-quality and just as flavorsome as vanilla can possibly be.

As with pre-made powder, homemade vanilla powder will be a lot stronger than vanilla extract, so be sure to use around half as much as the amount of extract called for by your recipe.

Disadvantages

When compared to pre-made vanilla powder, the only real disadvantage here is that you’ll have to spend a little time buying and processing the vanilla beans. But as you can see from our overview, it really only takes a few minutes to grind them up, so we’d say it’s totally worth it.

You can often find great quality vanilla beans (or pods) at your local grocery store, but you can always shop online if you’re having trouble finding any in-store.

Nutritional breakdown

Almond extract

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

292 kcal

15 %

Total fat

-

0 %

Saturated fat

-

0 %

Carbohydrates

13 g

4 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

8 mg

0 %

Protein

-

0 %

Potassium

148 mg

4 %

(Based on online nutritional information for vanilla beans.)

5. Vanilla sugar 🌱

Vanilla sugar

Vanilla sugar may be sweeter than the pure stuff, but it still has that distinctive vanilla flavor that we know and love. This is a great option if you’re on a budget or already have some in the cupboard that needs using up.

To use in your recipes, add 3x the amount of vanilla sugar as the amount of vanilla extract. But also remember that it will add extra sweetness to your recipe, so you’ll need to reduce the amount of sugar or other sweeteners you use accordingly.

Advantages

As vanilla sugar is not as pure as other vanilla products, it will often be much more affordable. However, if you want to use varieties that contain high amounts of real vanilla powder or extract, be prepared to fork out more for the quality. Always remember to check the label to make sure you know what you’re paying for.

Vanilla sugar is also a great alternative if you’re looking for something a little sweeter and less intense to add to your tea or coffee. As much as we love the flavor of vanilla, adding pure vanilla extract to your hot drinks can be a bit much. Vanilla sugar is perfect for getting that delicious vanilla taste without the bitterness and intensity. There are also vanilla sugars specially formulated for hot drinks, such as this one.

Disadvantages

Unfortunately, the reason vanilla sugar is often significantly more affordable than vanilla extract is that it is often artificially flavored. This means that instead of containing real vanilla beans, the vanilla flavoring often comes from synthetic vanillin, which may be sourced from wood pulp, coal or other non-vanilla sources. The flavor of artificial vanilla will never quite live up to the real thing, but if you’re on a budget and don’t mind imitation flavorings, this could still make a good option for you.

Vanilla sugar can also be a little inconvenient to get your hands on if you don’t already have some in stock. If you don’t have any luck finding local places to buy it from, you might be better off going for online options like this one.

Nutritional breakdown

Vanilla sugar

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

400 kcal

15 %

Total fat

-

0 %

Saturated fat

-

0 %

Carbohydrates

99 g

42 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

100 mg

1 %

Protein

-

0 %

(Based on nutritional information for Dr. Oetker Vanilla Sugar.)

6. Almond extract 🌱  

Almond extract

Okay, so it might not taste like vanilla, but almond extract makes a great substitute if you don’t mind experimenting with other flavors – especially if you like almonds! Almond extract tends to be significantly stronger than vanilla extract, so we recommend using half as much as the amount of vanilla extract called for by your recipe.

Advantages

Perhaps the best thing about this substitute is its affordability compared to vanilla extract. Sure, it’s still not the cheapest thing in the world, but because it’s easier to produce, you can usually pick it up for substantially less than its vanilla counterpart.

Because almond extract has a more intense flavor than vanilla extract, you can get by on half as much. This makes it more convenient in the long term, because the same amount will last you twice as long.

This is also a great option if you’re allergic to vanilla or vanillin. Allergies are complicated, and sometimes even imitation or artificial vanilla is no good for those of us with a vanilla allergy. But as long as you don’t have a nut or almond allergy (and you actually like the flavor of almonds), you won’t have to worry about any adverse effects with almond extract. 

Disadvantages

As we already mentioned, almond extract obviously won’t taste like vanilla. It does have a similar level of intensity to it, but ultimately it will taste more like, well, almonds, than vanilla. However, if you’re familiar with the flavor of almond extract and already know it’s up your street, then there’s no reason not to make the change. If not, it’s always worth trying it out!

If you want to swap out the vanilla extract because of its alcohol content, then unfortunately this isn’t the one for you. Almond extract is created in a very similar way to vanilla extract and will usually contain over 30% alcohol.

Nutritional breakdown

Almond extract

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

288 kcal

14 %

Total fat

-

0 %

Saturated fat

-

0 %

Carbohydrates

13 g

4 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

9 mg

0 %

Protein

-

0 %

Potassium

149 mg

4 %

(Based on online nutritional information for almond extract.)

7. Maple syrup 🌱

Maple syrup

The flavor of maple syrup may be pretty different to the flavor of vanilla extract, but if you’re just looking for something convenient to use and you like the taste of maple syrup, this could be the one for you. You can replace the vanilla extract called for by equal amounts of maple syrup.

However. note that if you want a distinctly maple syrup flavored end-result, you will need to use more maple syrup than the amount of vanilla extract called for by the recipe. This is because maple syrup is much milder in flavor than vanilla extract.

Advantages

The best thing about this substitute is its convenience. Many of us will have a bottle of maple syrup lying around in a cupboard somewhere, making it a super handy substitute if you’re all out of vanilla extract.

This is also a great option if you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to vanilla extract. At around $35 per gallon compared to the huge $500 per gallon cost of vanilla extract, maple syrup is a much more affordable option if you’re baking on a budget.

The taste of maple syrup is naturally very different to that of vanilla, but its sweet, syrupy flavor is delicious all the same and popular for a good reason.

Disadvantages

As we previously said, the flavor and texture of maple syrup is fundamentally different than the flavor of vanilla extract. While vanilla extract is thin, intense and not sweet itself, maple syrup is thick, mild and sweet.

However, these differences are not necessarily a bad thing if you like the flavor of maple syrup and don’t mind a flavor that is not recognizably vanilla. Your end-result will not taste like vanilla, but it will taste great all the same!

If you want a noticeably maple syrup flavor, you will also need to use slightly more maple syrup than the amount of vanilla extract called for by your recipe. This isn’t such a bad thing in itself, but if you use too much maple syrup you may throw off the balance of textures or other flavors in the recipe.

You will also be adding more calories and sugar to your recipe, but the difference won’t be anything too significant as long as you don’t go too overboard. As a guide, you can safely use up to 2x the amount of maple syrup without throwing things off too much, though you can definitely experiment with adding more. 

Nutritional breakdown

Maple syrup

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

260 kcal

14 %

Total fat

0.1 g

0 %

Saturated fat

-

0 %

Carbohydrates

67 g

22 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

12 mg

0 %

Protein

-

0 %

Potassium

212 mg

6 %

Calcium

102 mg

10 %

(Based on USDA nutritional information for maple syrup.)

8.  Bourbon or brandy 🌱 

Bourbon or brandy

This may seem like a strange substitute at first glance, but it makes sense when you think about the fact that vanilla extract is around 35% alcohol and the flavor profile of bourbon is often described as distinctly vanilla-esque.

Advantages

Did you know that bourbon is sometimes used as a carrier in vanilla extract? That’s because its flavor has hints of vanilla and caramel all on its own, making it a perfect match for the flavor of pure vanilla beans. But if vanilla extract isn’t on the menu today, bourbon on its own can provide a delicious and convincing replacement for the real stuff.

Brandy is not overly sweet, but has a subtle sweetness that bourbon doesn’t have. While this takes it a little further away from the intense flavor of vanilla extract, it can make it a great option if you’re looking to add a little extra sweetness to your recipe anyway.

We all know that a good brandy or bourbon isn’t exactly cheap, but next to high-end vanilla extract it certainly starts to look that way. Brandy averages around $90 per gallon and bourbon about $160 per gallon.

Not cheap, but definitely a lot cheaper than the average $500 per gallon cost of vanilla extract. Plus, it’s worth remembering that you’ll only be using a very small amount of bourbon or brandy in your recipe, so a little goes a long way here. Use twice the amount of bourbon or brandy as the amount of vanilla extract called for by your recipe (2 tsp for every 1 tsp called for).

Disadvantages

Naturally, this isn’t a great option if you’re trying to cut back on the alcohol. Even if you’re not going for total abstinence, we’d only recommend using this substitute if your recipe calls for a teaspoon or two of vanilla extract: you don’t want your guests getting tipsy off your cookies!

Although there are similarities in the flavors of vanilla extract, bourbon and brandy, they are ultimately not the same. We’d recommend using bourbon over brandy if you want a reasonably close flavor match, but you’ll likely still be able to taste the difference in flavor.

Nutritional breakdown

Brandy

Amount (per 100 g)

% Recommended daily intake

Calories

233 kcal

12 %

Total fat

-

0 %

Saturated fat

-

0 %

Carbohydrates

-

0 %

Cholesterol

-

0 %

Salt

1 mg

0 %

Protein

-

0 %

Potassium

2 mg

0 %

(Based on online nutritional information for brandy.)

The Bottom Line

It can be hard to match that distinctive flavor of vanilla extract without going for the real thing, but many of the substitutes on this list can do exactly that – if not better! But before we leave you to experiment with the many delicious options available to you, let’s sum up the best picks for dietary requirements, affordability, convenience and similarity to vanilla extract.

Top halal / teetotal / vegan picks

If you’re looking for a substitute that’s 100% alcohol free, then vanilla powder, vanilla-flavored milk, maple syrup and some vanilla sugar varieties are all great options. The highest quality option is usually vanilla powder, which is both vegan and alcohol free.

If you’re looking for a more affordable non-alcoholic or vegan option, artificially vanilla flavored ingredients can be a good option. Just make sure you check the label to ensure that it fits your dietary requirements.

As you may have noticed, the vast majority of the substitutes on this list are usually 100% vegan. However, it’s always important to check the label to make sure they haven’t slipped any unusual ingredients into the mix.

Top affordable picks

Artificially vanilla flavored products such as vanilla-flavored milk are your best bet here if you don’t mind missing out on the quality but still want that distinctive vanilla flavor. If you don’t mind going with a slightly different flavor, maple syrup and almond extract also work as more affordable alternatives. Just keep in mind that these options will give a noticeably different flavor to most baking recipes.

If you still want that classic, quality vanilla flavor without paying over the odds, making your own vanilla powder from vanilla beans is another great option. You can even look into making your own vanilla extract if you really want to go all in on the homemade route.

Top convenient picks

If you’re just frantically searching the cupboards for anything to use in place of vanilla, then maple syrup, bourbon or brandy will make a suitable substitute. Be warned that these alternatives will not give that same distinctive vanilla flavor as vanilla extract and other vanilla-based products, but they won’t cause a drastic difference in flavor when used among many other ingredients.

Top convincing picks

Finally, if you want that pure, authentic vanilla flavor but vanilla extract isn’t an option, vanilla powder (pre-made or homemade), non-artificial vanilla sugar or vanilla paste are your best alternatives. 

Artificial vanilla-flavored options can be great if you don’t mind missing out on the full flavor spectrum of vanilla, but there’s really nothing like the authentic stuff. Vanilla flavoring products containing real vanilla will naturally come with a heftier price tag, but you can always buy your own vanilla beans to make homemade vanilla powder or extract if you want a slightly more affordable option.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Shares
Scroll to Top