Vanilla has the reputation of being the most basic flavor. However, true dessert connoisseurs know the incredible power of vanilla extract. It adds strong notes of vanilla to cakes or cookies, while also bringing out other flavors like chocolate, caramel, or honey. It’s one of the most versatile additives and an absolutely indispensable part of baking. But what do you do if you find yourself out of this extract?
Worry not! There are 7 great options to substitute for vanilla extract you can use to keep your dessert as decadent as the real deal.
1. Vanilla Beans
If you need a substitute for vanilla extract, then why not go straight to the source? Manufacturers make vanilla extract by soaking vanilla beans in alcohol until they release their complex aroma. Therefore, flavor-wise, vanilla beans are the perfect alternative. In fact, they might even be better than the extract, since they provide a much deeper and more intense vanilla flavor.
Not only that, but they also have a surprising number of health benefits the extract lacks. Organic vanilla beans are rich in minerals and B vitamins, which are excellent for treating anxiety and stress. Plus, because they impart the same amount of flavor, substitution is very easy.
1 Tbsp of vanilla extract = 1 whole vanilla bean
The only downside of this substitute is that vanilla beans can be very pricey, and harder to find than the extract. Therefore, if you’re on a budget, you may want to opt for another substitution on this list.
2. Ground Vanilla Beans
Much like whole vanilla beans, ground vanilla beans provide the same health benefits and the same complex flavor profile. Therefore, they’re yet another good substitute for vanilla extract. As the name suggests, ground vanilla beans come from grinding whole vanilla beans till they form a slightly moist powder.
The powder is much more heat resistant than regular vanilla extract. Regular vanilla extract evaporates quickly if it’s added to dishes too soon during cooking time. Therefore, using it requires quite a bit of baking experience and time management. In contrast, ground vanilla beans are much more forgiving and can withstand higher temperatures.
Therefore, you’re free to add them to your hot custard without worrying about the loss of flavor. The only downside to ground vanilla beans is that they’re less flavorful than the extract; however, you can easily account for this by adding more ground vanilla beans.
1 tbsp of vanilla extract = 1 ½ tbsp of ground vanilla bean
3. Almond Extract
Vanilla beans aren’t the only thing you can make an extract out of. Almonds also make a delightfully flavorful additive that can impart a very strong, earthy taste to your cakes. What’s more, in the right amounts, it can also serve as an excellent substitute for vanilla extract. Manufacturers make almond extract by cold pressing almonds till they release their oil.
The oil is then combined with alcohol to get a potent additive. Because the cold press method preserves most of the nutrients in almonds, the extract contains plenty of healthy minerals, like magnesium and phosphorus. Therefore, it’s the perfect healthy food to add some nutrition to your sweet treats.
However, because the extract has a strong, bitter flavor, it’s very different from vanilla extract. To maintain the flavor profile of your dish, start by adding less of the almond extract when substituting.
1 tbsp of vanilla extract = ½ tbsp of almond extract
4. Vanilla Almond Milk
When looking for a substitute for vanilla extract, vanilla-flavored things are always a good option. In recent years, plant-based milk has become a hit amongst the general public. Not only do they taste great, but they’re also much more ethical and in some cases healthier choices than traditional, dairy milk.
Vanilla-flavored almond milk is even better, since it combines the light, nutty flavor of almonds, with the refreshing creamy taste of vanilla. Plus, because plant-based milk is so popular, vanilla almond milk is very easy to find in supermarkets everywhere. It’s also much cheaper than vanilla beans, so it’s a win-win.
What’s more, despite it being milk, substitution is very easy, because the flavor profile is so similar.
1 Tbsp of vanilla extract = 1 Tbsp of vanilla almond milk
5. Fruit Zest
Bakers use vanilla extract to add more flavor to their sweets. Therefore, when looking for a substitute for vanilla extract, you should go for alternatives that do the same. Enter fruit zest. Lemon, orange or lime zest, not only can they add tang to your sweets, but can elevate the flavor profile of your dish.
What’s more, citrus oils are quite resistant to heat. You can zest some lemon into your hot custard without worrying about the flavor evaporating. However, as good of a flavor booster as these fruits are, they’re still fruits. This means that they will obviously change the taste of your dish.
But if you don’t mind a fruity tang in your dessert, you can still use them to substitute vanilla extract.
1 Tbsp of vanilla extract = ½- ¼ Tbsp of fruit zest
6. Maple Syrup
Sweet, smokey and earthy? Yes please! Maple syrup hits all the right flavor notes you want in your substitute for vanilla extract. Plus, it also adds a nice sweet kick to your desserts that any sugar geek will appreciate.
This Canadian treasure is made by boiling maple tree sap till it becomes a viscous syrup. Because quality maple syrup contains a lot of beneficial minerals, many use it as a replacement for refined sugar. It not only makes things taste really good, but it’s also much healthier than the white stuff.
Obviously, the syrup will naturally sweeten any dish you add it to. Therefore, if you’re using it to substitute vanilla extract, you will not only have to adjust the amounts, but also cut back on the sugar you put into your recipe.
1 Tbsp of vanilla extract = ½ tbsp of maple syrup
Though vanilla extract primarily adds a sharp, creamy flavor to desserts, it also leaves a decadent buttery aftertaste. If this extra kick is what you want from your sweet treat, then consider using honey as a substitute for vanilla extract.
Like maple syrup, honey is a natural sweetener with plenty of health benefits. Therefore, it’s the perfect replacement for table sugar especially if you’re watching your health. However, because it is very sweet, you will have to cut back on any added sugar if you’re using it to substitute vanilla extract.
1 Tbsp of vanilla extract = ½ tbsp of honey