Great Substitutes for Vanilla in Baking

Great Substitutes for Vanilla in Baking

It’s easy to assume that when you’re out of vanilla extract, there’s no point in continuing on with your baking until you’ve popped to the shop to grab more. Realising you’re out of vanilla mid-bake is particularly frustrating! What are you supposed to do with your mix now? Fortunately, when looking for a vanilla extract replacement, you can use many things that may save you from having to do a panic shop. Here’s our handy list to suggest what to use instead of vanilla extract when you’re in a pinch.

1. Golden Syrup as a Vanilla Extract Substitute

I myself love a bit of baking and was taught the simple tricks by my mum growing up (who bakes cakes semi-professionally). My personal favourite was to use golden syrup if you’re out of vanilla essence. A teaspoon of golden syrup in your recipe will provide that extra bit of depth, with its deeply sweet treacle flavour. You can always add more or less, depending on your flavour preference. 

golden syrup vanilla substitute
Image credit: The Sun Scotland

2. Use Maple Syrup as a Substitute for Vanilla Extract

For our friends across the pond, maple syrup can be used if you haven’t got golden syrup available. Whilst maple syrup is available in most superstores around the UK now, not many people tend to have it in their cupboards. That could be because our pancakes tend to use lemon juice and sugar, rather than syrup and butter. If you’ve got a little maple syrup to hand, drop the same amount into the bowl as you would vanilla, to give your baking that extra layer of flavour. 

maple syrup
Image credit: Health Cautions

3. Citrus Zest Instead of Vanilla

It may not directly imitate the vanilla flavour, but a nice substitute for vanilla extract can be citrus zest (the zest, not the juice). This can give your baking a little pop of freshness. The zest of citrus fruit is a much subtler flavour, without the acidity you would have from the juice. Citrus zest has proven to be a great vanilla substitute in baking over the years and is something I often use. It’s particularly helpful with your more dry dough, as it won’t water it down. 

citrus zest
Image credit: My Recipes

4. Almond Extract

When is doubt, go for another smooth, sweet extract flavour. Provided you don’t have a nut allergy, Almost extract can be a brilliant alternative. Almond is known for having a very creamy flavour, much like cashews. When used in small amounts it can add a subtle sweet kick to most dishes. The trick with almost extract as a vanilla essence alternative is to use it sparingly. Start with a few drops, then taste, continuing to add it little by little until the flavour is where you need it to be. 

almost extract
Image Credit: Step to Health

5. Other Spices

Vanilla isn’t the only space you can use to deepen the flavours of your cooking. In fact, there a few super handy spices you may keep in the cupboard that would make a brilliant substitute for vanilla in cookies. The cookie dough requires a bit of a balancing act, in order for them to cook well, so you want to avoid liquid substitutes. Going for spices like cardamom, cinnamon, or nutmeg can really boost their flavour. You don’t have to use a lot, but a sprinkle of spice can make all the difference in the end result (just look at the Powerpuff Girls).

cinammon and nutmeg
Image Credit: Simple Healthy Family

6. Espresso Power or Instant Coffee

Probably not something you would think of when trying to figure out the best vanilla substitutes. However, espresso powder or instant coffee, in small amounts, can have a big impact on flavour. Though it is worth noting that this particular food hack is best suited to your richer tasting baking projects, like chocolate. Chocolate desserts are a yummy treat, and by using a pinch of coffee you can provide a rich early undertone to an already delicious dessert. This is a flavour trick that has been used by professionals in the food industry for many years!

coffee vanilla extract substitute
Image credit: Wide Open Eats

7. Bourbon, Rum, or Brandy as a Vanilla Extract Substitute

Last but most certainly not least, is bourbon! Many people are not aware that there is actually alcohol in the vanilla extract as part of the extraction process. This means rum, brandy and bourbon are not as unusual as you might think for a vanilla extract alternative. All you need to do is add the same amount of your chosen spirit to the mix as you would vanilla essence to kick your flavours up a notch. As soon as your batter or dough goes into the oven, the alcohol will begin to evaporate and will be totally cooked out by the time it’s done.

burbon bottles
Image credit: Ky Bourbon Trail

So there you have it! A few easy substitutes for vanilla when you’re in a bind. It may even be worth stocking up on a couple of these handy backups. Just so that you know you’ve always got something available to use next time you run out of vanilla mid-bake. Just be sure to pick the substitute that right for your dish, and you’re guaranteed to add a tasty pop to anything you make, whether you’ve got vanilla essence in your pantry or not.



Eloise is a lifelong gamer, a studier of Ancient History and Archaeology, a pet care journalist, a new mother of one, and film studies graduate with a desire to pass on her own knowledge so that others may benefit from it.

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