Pick a vanilla bean substitute from this list the next time you realize you don't have vanilla beans while baking! Some of these options are a close flavor match to vanilla beans, while some are easy alternatives that may already be in your pantry! Your sweets, treats, and baked goods will turn out delicious no matter which you choose!
The Best Vanilla Bean Substitutes
Did you know that vanilla beans are a fruit? Moreover, the fruit of an orchid plant?! These long brown pods are produced by vanilla orchids. Vanilla orchids are grown in tropical climates like Tahiti, Indonesia, and Mexico.
Vanilla beans are used to make vanilla extract (your first vanilla bean substitute!). However, they can also be used on their own to add a truly rich and distinctive vanilla flavor to recipes.
In contrast to its by-product vanilla extract, vanilla beans are quite expensive. Therefore, they are not common to have on hand.
Whether you don’t have vanilla beans on hand or simply don’t want to spend the money on them you can still get a wonderful flavor with a substitute. Keep reading to see what substitutes you may already have at home and which ones will be best for your recipe.
1. Pure Vanilla Extract
Pure vanilla extract is made from vanilla beans. You can easily make your own extract at home if you have vanilla beans. However, this process takes at least two months to complete.
Due to the quality of ingredients and the time needed to produce the extract vanilla extract is the more expensive of the substitute options. It is the best option though.
Pure vanilla extract will lend the closest real vanilla flavor to any recipe. It is also an easy substitution since each extract tablespoon is equal to one vanilla bean pod.
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract = 1 vanilla bean pod
Another great thing about this choice is that it is easy to punch up the vanilla flavor if you’d like. Simply use 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract in place of 1 vanilla bean pod. This will ensure a distinct and rich vanilla flavor. Especially in baked goods, where some of the vanilla flavor can dimmish while cooking.
One thing to keep in mind is that any extract is going to be a different consistency than a vanilla bean pod. Therefore, it may add a small amount of liquid to your recipe. If you are concerned about this impacting the texture of your recipe, simply reduce your other liquids by a small amount.
2. Vanilla Bean Paste
Like vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste is made directly from the vanilla bean. Therefore, it is another great choice for maintaining a natural and rich flavor of vanilla.
However, the process of making vanilla bean paste includes adding a binding ingredient to form the paste-like consistency. Typically, this is sugar or corn syrup that is mixed with vanilla bean scrapings. Therefore, your vanilla bean paste will be sweeter than regular vanilla beans.
To counteract the added sweetness of the paste, leave out some of the sweeteners that your recipe calls for.
While vanilla bean paste is not as common as vanilla extract in grocery stores it is easy to find in most specialty health food stores.
Use 1 tablespoon of vanilla bean paste in place of 1 vanilla bean pod. You can add more to enrich the vanilla flavor, but make sure to decrease the other sweeteners even more.
3. Vanilla Powder
Vanilla powder is the third most common type of flavoring derived from vanilla beans. This flavoring is made from dehydrated vanilla beans that have been finely ground to create a powder form.
While vanilla powder is not as commonly used in home kitchens for baking, it is a great choice for those who don’t like using alcohol-based extracts for recipes like custards or frosting. However, like vanilla bean paste this alternative typically has added sugar.
Therefore, make sure to check the ingredients listed on the package. If sugar has been added, leave out some of the sugar (or other sweeteners) that is in your recipe.
Since the flavor is more concentrated in powder form than the other options you will only need 2 teaspoons of vanilla powder to replace 1 vanilla bean.
4. Vanilla Sugar
Vanilla sugar is essentially regular white granulated sugar that has been mixed with the ground-up vanilla bean. Like the other flavorings made from vanilla beans, it will have a real vanilla flavor.
As you can guess, it will be a much sweeter flavor than regular vanilla beans. To balance the added sweetness simply replace some of the sugar with vanilla sugar.
The exchange ratio for flavor is 1 to 2 teaspoons of vanilla sugar for 1 vanilla bean pod. However, you could increase that if you are replacing the regular sugar in your recipe with vanilla sugar.
For example, if your recipe calls for ¼ cup of granulated sugar, replace 1 tablespoon of that with 1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar. This will add a bolder vanilla flavor without adding unnecessary sweetness.
5. Almond Extract
Almond extract is not going to taste like vanilla beans. However, almond extract has a beautiful and rich flavor that can shift the flavor of many recipes that call for vanilla beans.
If you have a recipe that is meant to be vanilla (such as vanilla ice cream or custard) then this alternative will not work. On the other hand, if you are making cookies or a cake that calls for vanilla beans and you want to explore a new flavor this is a great choice.
Almond extract is quite concentrated in flavor compared to other extracts. Therefore, begin by only using 1 to 2 teaspoons of almond extract for 1 vanilla bean pod. I suggest adding one teaspoon and tasting the batter then adding more if desired.
6. Pure Maple Syrup
Like almond extract, maple syrup is not going to lend a true vanilla flavor. Pure maple syrup has a warm and rich flavor though that is a lovely alternative for many vanilla-based desserts. For example, maple ice cream instead of vanilla bean ice cream can be just as delicious
The key here is to make sure you are using truly pure maple syrup. The kind that only lists maple syrup in the ingredient list (nothing artificial).
To experiment with a flavor swap of vanilla bean for maple start with 1 tablespoon of maple syrup for 1 vanilla bean pod. Since this is a naturally sweeter alternative you may want to leave out some of the extra sugar in your recipe.
7. Imitation Vanilla Extract
While imitation vanilla extract may sound like a good alternative to vanilla beans it is the last one I would suggest. Imitation vanilla extract is made from imitation vanilla flavoring. It does not contain any real vanilla beans.
The taste of vanilla extract can work in small quantities, but when used in large quantities it can impact the flavor of your dessert negatively. You may notice the artificial flavoring more clearly. Unfortunately, to get anywhere near the potency of real vanilla beans you need to use quite a bit of imitation vanilla extract.
Since imitation vanilla extract is made with artificial flavoring the taste quickly cooks out when it encounters heat. Therefore, you must use twice as much as you would of a real extract (2 tablespoons of imitation vanilla extract for every tablespoon of pure vanilla extract).
If you only have access to imitation vanilla extract, you can use it in a pinch. I would suggest using it in cold recipes though (such as ice cream or custard). That way you can use a bit less since the flavor won’t cook out.
For cold recipes use 2 tablespoons of imitation vanilla extract to replace 1 vanilla bean pod. If baking your dish use 3-4 tablespoons of imitation vanilla extract for 1 vanilla bean pod.
When To Opt For The Real Thing
While all of these alternatives are good for mimicking the flavor of vanilla beans, they will not replicate the appearance of vanilla beans. One of the distinct qualities of vanilla beans is the little black flecks. Think about your favorite vanilla bean ice cream.
If you are taking the time to make a decadent dessert that relies heavily on a bold vanilla flavor as well as the appearance of vanilla beans, then opt for the real thing. It will be worth the investment for a truly decadent and delicious dessert.
To lessen the cost, look online for vanilla beans. They are often less expensive online than at the grocery store. Moreover, you can buy them in bulk, so you always have some vanilla beans on hand.
Choose any vanilla bean substitute from this list the next time you're in a bind! Let us know what recipe you need a substitute for by leaving us a message in the comment section below!
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Angela is an at home chef that developed a passion for all things cooking and baking at a young age in her Grandma's kitchen. After many years in the food service industry, she now enjoys sharing all of her family favorite recipes and creating tasty dinner and amazing dessert recipes here at Bake It With Love!