The Best Simple Vanilla Extract Substitutes

Looking for an alternative to the Vanilla Extract? You’re in the right place! Keep reading for my favourite simple Vanilla Extract Substitutes.

What is Vanilla Extract?

Vanilla Beans are a spice that are commonly used to flavour desserts and sweet treats. It has a unique sweet aroma which is one of my favourite smells in the world.

Vanilla Extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in alcohol to ‘extract’ the flavour compounds into a more easily usable form.

Best Vanilla Extract Substitutes

1. Skip it.

While vanilla does add a lovely flavour to baked goods and desserts, if I don’t have any I just leave it out. With all the sweet sugary goodness you probably won’t miss the vanilla.

2. Vanilla Bean Paste / Powder

Vanilla bean paste which is ground vanilla beans mixed with a sugar syrup is a good alternative. My favourite option is vanilla bean powder which is finely ground vanilla beans without the sugar. Both are much more economical than whole beans and they have the benefit of providing the visual of the little black specks of vanilla that normally come from the seeds of the whole pod.

1 vanilla bean = 1 teaspoon of paste = 1/2 teaspoon vanilla powder = 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

3. Vanilla Essence

Vanilla essence is a solution made from chemically processed vanillin – the main flavour compound in vanilla beans. The flavour is no where near as complex as vanilla extract so I prefer to just skip the vanilla if I don’t have any of the above.

4. Cinnamon

While cinnamon is a completely different flavour to vanilla, it can make an nice alternative.

5. Cardamom Pods

Again these take the flavour in a different direction but cardamom often works well in a similar way to vanilla.

6. Vanilla Beans

Vanilla extract is made by infusing vanilla beans in an alcohol solution so the flavour transfers from the beans to the liquid. So you can go straight to the source and use whole vanilla beans instead of the extract. The downside of this is that the beans are significantly more expensive and more labour intensive. You’ll need to halve the beans and scrape the seeds out and use the seeds in your recipe instead of the liquid extract. One the up side the flavour from the beans is hard to beat.

1 vanilla bean = approximately 1-2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

You can make your own vanilla extract by soaking vanilla beans in vodka (recipe below).

What’s the difference between Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Essence?

Vanilla extract is made by soaking real vanilla beans in alcohol to extract the natural vanilla flavours. Where as vanilla essence is made from a manufactured artificial chemical called vanillin. Because the flavor of natural vanilla extract includes many different flavour compounds it is much more complex than the one dimensional flavour of vanilla essence.

The cost of vanilla extract is significantly higher but for me it’s worth it for the extra complexity.

How to Store Vanilla Extract

Keep in the pantry in an airtight jar.

How to Make Your Own Vanilla Extract

make about 1 cup

I’ve been meaning to make my own vanilla extract for years but have been putting it off because I thought it was going to be difficult.

If only I’d known how wrong I was, I would have started years ago. It couldn’t be simpler. Just pop some vanilla beans in a jar with some booze and wait.

3-5 vanilla beans
1 cup vodka or other alcohol

1. Halve vanilla beans crosswise then cut down the length of each half. Scrape the seeds out from the middle and place in a clean jar about 1 cup capacity.

2. Place beans in the jar. Fill with vodka. Seal.

3. Store for about 8 weeks before using, shaking every few days or whenever you think about it.

4. As you use the extract, continue to top up with more vodka and vanilla beans.

Takes about 8 weeks before it’s ready. Then will keep indefinitely. Just keep adding beans and alcohol and discarding the older softer beans if the jar gets too full.

More Ingredient Substitutes

Also see see the Simple Ingredients Substitutes Index.

Have fun in the kitchen!

Jules x