What to Do When You’re Out of Vanilla Extract

Don't make an extra trip to the store. There are plenty of ways to make a vanilla substitute without sacrificing flavor or quality.

There are a few pantry staples I take for granted: baking soda, molasses and vanilla extract. The containers are so large, I just assume I have some on hand. But, sometimes someone uses up the last few drops of vanilla without putting it on the shopping list, and my pantry shelves lay bare when I’m in the middle of mixing up a batch of cookies. Don’t make an emergency run to the store! You can create a vanilla substitute with ingredients you already have on hand.

When you do run to the store, here are the vanilla brands the Taste of Home Test Kitchen recommends.

Vanilla Substitutes

Here’s what you can use in place of vanilla in recipes.

Maple Syrup

My go-to substitute for vanilla extract is maple syrup. It has the same sweet aroma, and it does a pretty good job of mimicking vanilla’s mellow flavor. Use the same amount of maple syrup as you would vanilla, and you’ll barely notice the difference. (This is why vanilla is so expensive.)

Almond Extract

Almond extract is significantly more potent than vanilla, but it will provide a similar flavor profile if you use it sparingly. You’ll only need to use half the amount of almond extract, and you might be surprised at how much you like its nutty flavor in your favorite vanilla recipes.

Bourbon, Brandy or Rum

Believe it or not, there is alcohol in vanilla (here’s how much). To make the extract, vanilla beans are soaked in alcohol to extract its enticing flavor and aroma. Swapping in the same amount of a flavorful spirit makes a fantastic substitute. And as long as whatever you’re making is baked, the alcohol content will cook out leaving you with all of the flavor and none of the booze.

Other Spices

If vanilla isn’t the star of your recipe, it’s likely added to create depth of flavor. Try swapping in another spice, like cinnamon, cardamom or nutmeg. These spices can be strong, so we recommend starting with a pinch.

Instant Coffee or Espresso Powder

You won’t miss the flavor of vanilla in rich, chocolaty treats if you add coffee or espresso powder instead. You won’t need to add much; a pinch of espresso powder goes a long way.

Citrus Zest

Zesting a lime, lemon or orange is a great way to add a burst of fresh flavor to your favorite baked goods. The juice is too acidic, but the zest is super flavorful and it won’t water down your dough, either.

Up Next: Bean, Paste or Extract: Are You Using the Right Kind of Vanilla for Your Recipe?

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.