So you’re about to whip up a batch of cupcakes when you realize that you’re all out of vanilla extract. We’ll let you in on a little secret: You can still bake your cake and eat it, too, without sacrificing its flavor. Because this aromatic ingredient is usually called for in such small amounts, it’s pretty easy to swap it for something else. Here are six legitimately great vanilla extract substitutes. Bonus? They’re cheaper too. (Fun fact: Vanilla is the second-most expensive spice after saffron.)
1. Rum, bourbon or brandy
To make vanilla extract, vanilla beans are soaked in alcohol (usually rum or bourbon) to extract their flavor. So it only makes sense that subbing one of these spirits will give you that same sweet and slightly smoky flavor you’re after. (Brandy works too.) For best results, swap in the same amount of alcohol for the extract.
2. Almond extract
For a similar mellow flavor, try vanilla extract’s nutty cousin. Almond extract has a stronger flavor than vanilla, so you should use about half the amount your recipe requires (e.g., if your cookies call for 1 teaspoon vanilla, add ½ teaspoon almond extract instead).
3. Maple syrup
Our favorite pancake topper has the same sweet aroma as vanilla, plus just the right hint of smokiness. Replace the vanilla extract with an equal amount of maple syrup.
4. Vanilla beans
Swap like for like by using vanilla beans, paste or powder in your recipe instead. All three can be substituted in equal amounts and the only difference will be that your finished product will have pretty black flecks of vanilla. One note about using vanilla beans: To use them, you’ll cut open the bean and scrape out the seeds. (According to Kitchn, one vanilla bean’s seeds equals about 3 teaspoons vanilla extract, BTW.)
5. Vanilla milk
Use vanilla-flavored almond or soy milk as stand-ins for vanilla extract by subbing them in equal amounts.
6. Other spices
This one is for adventurous cooks only, since adding extra spices will probably alter the flavor of your recipe (sometimes for the better). Warming spices like cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg all add sweetness and depth to dishes, but you may need to experiment with measurements to get the right flavor profile.
Looking for more baking substitutes?
- 10 Dairy-Free Substitutes for Milk and How to Use Them
- 5 Ingredients You Can Substitute for Molasses
- 7 Genius Substitutes for Heavy Cream
- 7 Vegan Buttermilk Substitute Options for Plant-Based Baking
- How to Make Your Own Self-Rising Flour Substitute