Checked the cupboard and there’s no vanilla? Here’s the best vanilla extract substitute to use in baking and cooking.

Vanilla extract substitute

Are you baking and realized you don’t have vanilla extract on hand? Vanilla extract is made by macerating vanilla pods in alcohol, which gives it a unique perfumed flavor. There’s a myriad of recipes that call for vanilla extract: cakes, cookies, muffins, pancakes, waffles: almost anything is better with a glug of this stuff. In fact: vanilla works a little like salt does in savory recipes. It brings out the existing flavors, making them more vibrant.

What is a substitute for vanilla extract? Vanilla is a tough one to replace. But if you’re in a pinch, we’ve got a 1 minute recipe that works like a charm! There are a few other options depending on what you have on hand.

Best vanilla extract substitute

1. Equal parts bourbon and amaretto.

The best vanilla extract substitute? It’s time to raid your liquor cabinet! Equal parts bourbon and amaretto provide a flavor that’s sweet, nutty, fruity, and complex all at once: very similar to vanilla extract. We tested the bourbon-amaretto mix as a vanilla extract substitute in yogurt fruit dip, and it works like a charm! There’s some difference in flavor, but it comes remarkably close. It also works in baked goods like quick breads, cakes and cookies. (Side note: these two ingredients mix up into a tasty amaretto sour.)

What’s the ratio? Substitute ½ teaspoon bourbon and ½ teaspoon amaretto for 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Worried about the alcohol? Get this: vanilla extract contains 35 to 40% alcohol. Bourbon is 40% alcohol and amaretto is only 28% alcohol! So the bourbon amaretto combination has less alcohol than vanilla itself. (Read more here.)

2. Bourbon or rum.

Don’t have amaretto? No worries. The next best vanilla extract substitute? Use any dark liquor like bourbon or rum! It adds a subtle complexity to baked goods, making it a worthy substitute for vanilla. We’ve tested this trick in our Cranberry Bread and it yields great flavor in baking recipes. You can even use it in a Homemade Whipped Cream.

What’s the conversion? Use about 1 teaspoon bourbon or rum for every 1 teaspoon vanilla.

3. Vanilla bean (if you have it).

OK, we realize that if you don’t have vanilla extract, it is highly likely you also won’t have a vanilla bean. But it truly is the best substitute for vanilla extract because…the extract itself is a substitute for the vanilla bean! So it’s even better than extract.

Slice it open and scrape out the beans with a knife. What’s the conversion? ½ teaspoon vanilla bean seeds equal 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

4. Omit it altogether.

Yes, this is where the music stops! If you don’t have vanilla bean, bourbon, or rum, you can omit the vanilla extract altogether. Unless of course, you’re making something like homemade vanilla ice cream. In that case, please go buy vanilla! Here’s the key: Vanilla has such a subtle flavor that you can omit it in baked goods without noticing much of a difference.

Many online sources have some bogus ideas for vanilla substitutes (maple syrup, almond extract, etc). Save yourself the trouble and just leave it out! You’ll find most people won’t notice something is missing.

Here are some of our favorite recipes featuring vanilla:

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Vanilla extract substitute

Best Vanilla Extract Substitute


  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 1 minute
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 minute
  • Yield: 1 teaspoon 1x

Description

Checked the cupboard and there’s no vanilla? Here’s the best vanilla extract substitute to use in baking and cooking.


Ingredients

Scale
  • ½ teaspoon bourbon
  • ½ teaspoon amaretto

Instructions

  1. Mix the two ingredients together. Use as a substitute for 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. 
  • Category: Essentials
  • Method: Mixed
  • Cuisine: N/A
  • Diet: Vegan

Keywords: Vanilla extract substitute

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Meet Sonja and Alex Overhiser: Husband and wife. Expert home cooks. Authors of recipes you'll want to make again and again.

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