The Best Vanilla Extract Substitutes

How to replace vanilla in desserts.

By Cookist

With its heavenly flavor and enticing aroma, vanilla extract can add wonderful flavor to a subtle hint of sweetness to your favorite baking recipes. It's an optional addition that is well-worth adding, but sometimes, we find ourselves fresh out of vanilla extract. Or perhaps you simply don't feel like splurging on it. Never fear! There are plenty of delicious, inexpensive ways to substitute vanilla extract in recipes and you're bound to have at least one of these vanilla extract alternatives in your kitchen. Ready to get started? Let's dive in!

Vanilla Milk

No vanilla extract? No problem. If you have vanilla-flavored milk tucked in your fridge, you can use it as a quick, easy swap for vanilla extract in most recipes. Because most recipes only call for a small amount of vanilla extract, the milk shouldn't affect the outcome of your dish.

Vanilla Paste


Made from vanilla extract and several other ingredients, vanilla paste is a fantastic substitute to extract. It has a syrupy texture but boasts the same great vanilla flavor as vanilla extract. You can swap vanilla paste in a 1:1 ratio for vanilla extract.

Vanilla Bean

Serious home bakers may have vanilla bean pods in their pantry. While these fragrant pods are more of a specialty ingredient, they're worth picking up. Vanilla beans will give you a much stronger vanilla flavor, so if you're making a vanilla cake or cupcakes, they're the way to go. Scraping out the seeds from half of one vanilla bean pod is equivalent to roughly 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. One thing to be aware of – vanilla beans are quite expensive, so if you're looking for a cheap vanilla extract substitute, opt for something else.

Maple Syrup


While the two have distinct tastes, maple syrup is close enough in flavor to vanilla that you can get away with using it as an alternative in most recipes. You can use an equal amount of maple syrup in place of vanilla, however, you may want to reduce the sugar in your recipe. Maple syrup contains more sugar than vanilla extract.


A splash of brandy will add extra flavor to your desserts if you don't have vanilla extract. You can sub in an equal amount of brandy for vanilla in your recipes.

Almond Extract 


With its subtly sweet flavor, almond extract makes a wonderful addition to many different recipes. It's an excellent substitute for vanilla, especially if you're a fan of that sweet almond flavor. If you opt to use almond extract, half the amount you add to your recipe. Almond extract is notably stronger tasting than vanilla.


Vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla bean pods in alcohol. If you don't have vanilla extract, you can simply substitute it for alcohol in a recipe. Rum has a rich, complex flavor and will add a lot of nuance to your baking – and don't worry. The alcohol will burn off during the cooking process.



If you have a bottle of bourbon on hand, it's a perfect boozy substitute for vanilla extract in dessert recipes. Bourbon has a vanilla-like flavor thanks to the fact it's aged in oak barrels.

Vanilla Vodka

Another clever boozy swap you can use for vanilla extract is vanilla-flavored vodka or vanilla schnapps. Substitute the vanilla vodka for extract in a 1:1 swap.

Vanilla Yogurt


If you don't have anything else at home but really want that vanilla flavor in your dessert, you can add a dollop of vanilla yogurt to your recipe. Keep in mind it may slightly change the texture of the dish, but not in a bad way. Using yogurt will make your baked goods extra moist and tender, especially if it's only a tablespoon or so.

Other Flavored Extracts

You can make a straight swap for a different flavor of extract in your recipes. Orange, peppermint, lemon, or coconut are great options, just bear in mind they'll change the flavor profile of your recipe.



If you're baking up a chocolatey dessert, swap the vanilla for coffee. This will intensify the chocolate flavor of your dessert and you won't miss the vanilla flavor at all.


Like maple syrup, honey is a vanilla extract alternative that will add a hint of sweetness and subtle flavor to everything from desserts, sauces, or your morning bowl of oatmeal. You may need to adjust the sweetness in your recipe to accommodate it, but it's a fantastic substitute for vanilla.

Herbs and Spices


If you're using vanilla to add more nuance to a recipe, you can swap it for herbs and spices and achieve a similar effect. Cinnamon and nutmeg will bring a bit of warmth to baked treats or sprinkled over oatmeal, while cardamom would be a wonderful substitute in savory dishes.

How to Make Vanilla Extract

If you don't have any vanilla extract but you have some vanilla beans and vodka (or your preferred spirit such as bourbon or rum), you can combine the two in an airtight container and leave it for eight weeks.

Can I Skip Vanilla Extract in a Recipe?

Absolutely! If you don't have any vanilla extract or any of the substitutes listed above on hand, you can leave it out altogether, assuming vanilla isn't the main flavor of your recipe.

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