4 Best Substitutes for Vanilla Extract and When to Use Them

Vanilla Extract

Bakers out there will know that one of the most favorite baking companion is Vanilla Extract. A tiny drop of this mighty liquid can already make a difference to any desserts or pastries that you could think of. Vanilla is such a special spice that brings more depth to our all-time favorite desserts.

But if you run out of vanilla extract, you can substitute it with my second most favorite spice, cinnamon. Other substitutes that work well are lemon zest, maple syrup, and honey. Seriously, save yourself for a run to the grocery store.

Substituting Vanilla Extract for Baked Goodies

Just when we thought that vanilla extract is irreplaceable, now we know that we’re totally wrong. Thanks to all the experimental chefs out there who revealed one of their best-kept secrets in the baking realm. Let’s see how to fill the void without vanilla extract.

1. Cinnamon

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Who doesn’t love the smell of cinnamon? Cinnamon is such a diverse spice that it’s even used as an aroma for cosmetics, cleaning products, perfumes and so much more! There’s no surprise why this power spice made it in our list of perfect substitutes for vanilla extract.

You can buy cinnamon as bark from your nearby spice shop or buy it in powder form like how it’s mostly displayed in grocery stores. I prefer getting the powder form to easily use it when I need it.

I highly recommend trying Terrasoul Superfoods because of it’s more organic cinnamon bark. Rest assured that it’s healthier and high quality compared to other brands. Always pick the organic ones to ensure that there’s no pesticide or harmful chemicals added to it.

How To Substitute

When substituting, I always start with just a teaspoon especially when it comes to other spices such as cinnamon. Consider that cinnamon is a bit stronger than vanilla extract when it comes to taste and aroma. So depending on the dessert or pastry you’re making, you should start with half a teaspoon or so.

The safest ratio you can start with is ½ teaspoon of cinnamon over 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. If you need more, then just tweak the measurements and make it your own. There’s no need to dilute the cinnamon powder. You can add it straight to the mixture.

Just in case you only have a cinnamon bark instead, you can process it in a food processor to turn it into a powder or boil it in a cup of water for at least an hour to extract its aroma and juices. 2 tbsps of the cinnamon extract can replace ½ teaspoon of cinnamon powder.

Desserts You Can Make

I personally add cinnamon to my coffee. It just levels up that regular caffeine treat and gives it a special touch to it. The aroma of coffee and cinnamon, when mixed together, is so divine, especially for a warm morning cup. Pure goodness to wake you up and start the day right.

You can use cinnamon with any types of desserts in lieu of vanilla extract. If your cake needs a teaspoon of vanilla extract, then add half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder instead. Do the same with cookies, ice creams, brownies, puffed pastries, or even with pancakes. Trust me, you won’t even notice the difference.

2. Lemon Zest

Lemon zest

I understand how people are obsessed with zesty and tangy desserts because I’m one of those. Desserts with a hint of tanginess to it balance out the sweet taste of that dessert. Some people like me are not a huge fan of too-sweet desserts and will opt to get a more savory or zesty type of sweets to end the meal.

As part of some of my experiments back in the kitchen, I accidentally discovered a baking tip that you should all try. I forgot to put vanilla extract in my lemon cake, with the recipe I included the lemon zest. But oh boy, the result was outstanding. I didn’t even notice that my vanilla extract was missing.

Other than lemon, you can also take advantage of the citrus fruits available in your area. Like oranges, lime, tangerine, calamansi and so much more. All you need is that zest to kickstart your baking master skills.

How To Substitute

Take note that some desserts don’t need to be zesty. If you put in too much lemon zest, it might overpower the main flavor that dessert highlights. I always start with three strokes of grated lemon zest on any baked goods. That way, I don’t need to worry about the taste or aroma whether it’s balanced or not.

But if you’re making a fruity dessert, you can add as much as you like. The lemon zest emphasizes the fruity flavor of the dessert without overpowering it. There’s no specific fruit that you can pair up with lemon zest. It works just well with most fruits available.

Desserts You Can Make

As I’ve mentioned before, lemon cake. You don’t need vanilla extract for this recipe because it doesn’t have much difference. Make it with fruity cakes, pies, and cheesecakes. Lemon zest with cheesecakes is a must-try. It balances that cheesy-sweet flavor of the dessert plus it brings additional aroma.

I also like mixing lemon zest on my homemade ice creams. It’s a perfect twist for the taste of that rich creamy texture. The same goes for making a cake or dessert frosting, I always add a pinch of lemon zest to add some uniqueness to the taste. I don’t really add vanilla extract. But if I do have some, I mix them together and it works perfectly well.

3. Maple Syrup

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One of my favorite sugar substitutes is maple syrup. Maple syrup is not only a good sweetener but is also responsible for increasing moisture to any dessert. It also has that wonderful sweet aroma that compliments any fruit-based desserts and pastries. Maple syrup is not just a common condiment for morning pancakes but it has a lot of uses in the kitchen.

When choosing the right kind of maple syrup, choose the most organic ones with lesser sugar content. Other brands tend to pack on unnecessary sugar that’s actually bad for your health. Maple syrups are readily available in most grocery stores worldwide.

If you’re confused about what to pick, you can try out Hidden Springs Maple Organic Vermont Maple Syrup or Kirkland Signature Organic Gluten-Free Maple Syrup. Both actually work well with most desserts and are priced reasonably.

How To Substitute

Just like what I do, I usually substitute my sugar with maple syrup. With that being said, I don’t bother adding vanilla extract anymore. Yes, as simple as that. If you like, you can add an extra tablespoon of maple syrup for your baked goods just to enhance more of its aroma, texture, and taste.

Just follow what the recipe calls for and just totally forget about the vanilla extract. You won’t even notice its absence in the dessert. With or without vanilla extract, the maple syrup will effectively provide the sweet-smelling aroma of your desserts or pastries.

Desserts You Can Make

Maple syrups are perfect for sweetbreads. I swear to this with my Banana Bread or cake, Banana-carrot cake, chocolate or blueberry muffins, and pecan pies. Maple syrup brings out the best of the desert, there’s no doubt about it. Other than that, it’s a perfect topping for plain ice cream flavors, cheesecakes, churros and so much more.

4. Honey

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You can never go wrong with honey. It’s the healthiest sweetener that you can use without worrying if you’re going to have health complications because of your sweet tooth. A lot of people nowadays are turning away from regular sugar and made a big switch with honey. They mixed it in their coffees, teas, bread, desserts, savory dishes and so much more.

Lucky are those who are near to bee farms, they get the freshest produce from our hardworking bees. Honey is best consumed when it’s straight out from its honeycomb. Support your local bee farmers and purchase honey fresh. You’re not only helping your community but you’re also saving the environment.

But if we don’t have that luxury to live in the countryside, it’s no big deal. Jarred honey is still equally delicious and beneficial. Just make sure that you pick brands that offer organic honey.

How To Substitute

It’s the same approach as to how we substituted with maple syrup earlier. When using honey with baked dishes and other desserts, the presence of vanilla extract is considered unnecessary. The same as maple syrup, honey has a much more sweet-smelling scent. It’s undeniably a competitive substitute for vanilla extract.

A teaspoon of vanilla extract can be replaced with a tablespoon of honey. If you’re a health-conscious trying to cut on unhealthy sugar, you can just replace the sugar content with honey instead. No need to add vanilla extract anymore. The resemblance of the dessert’s taste, texture, and aroma is definitely uncanny.

Desserts You Can Make

Everything. Any dessert you could think of, you can replace it with honey over vanilla extract. Just follow the ratio we’ve shown to you and you’ll see why this choice is worth it. You can make it with pancakes, bread (sweet or unsweetened), a variety of cakes, different flavors of ice cream, cookies and so much more.

Honey is a flexible sweetener and substitute at the same time. It has numerous uses and health benefits that you can take advantage of on your next baking session.

My Personal Pick

To tell you the truth, all of them offer the same weight of purpose which is to substitute vanilla extract. But if I have to pick only one, that’s definitely Honey. I like how honey is natural, healthy, and flexible in the kitchen.

No wonder, I always have one in the kitchen. Honey is the best choice not only when running out of vanilla extract but also when you run out of sugar. It does the job really well and it’s good for your health.

Still, rest assured that those substitutes above are perfect for substituting vanilla extract. Make use of whichever is available in your kitchen. Save yourself from hurrying into the store just to get a bottle of vanilla extract.

But, if you really want your vanilla extract in your kitchen, why not make your own homemade vanilla from scratch? It’s simple and easy. Here’s how.

How To Make Your Own Vanilla Extract At Home

Ingredients:

  • 5 pieces of vanilla beans
  • 1 cup of liquor (either rum or brandy, whichever is available)
  • Jar or bottle with a tight seal

Instructions:

  1. Clean your vanilla beans and let it dry.
  2. Take a knife and slice the vanilla until the beans are exposed. Do not slice the vanilla all the way, just make sure you exposed the beans enough around the center part.
  3. Then, measure your vanilla beans together with your jar or bottle. See if it fits inside when stored for later. If not, just cut it to its right size until it fits the jar.
  4. Take your bottle or jar and pour the liquor of your choice. Pour it until it fills up the jar and covers all the vanilla beans.
  5. Give it a little shake just to mix it all up inside and to ensure that the vanilla will absorb the liquor.
  6. Seal the jar or bottle tightly and keep it in a dark area with room temperature. Shake the vanilla mixture every week at least twice.
  7. Use your newly homemade vanilla extract after 8 weeks of shaking it. Enjoy!

Homemade vanilla extract can be stored for up to a year. As you start using it up, you can always refill it with the same liquor you used the first time. Then just shake it to mix it with the old ones. With this big batch of homemade vanilla extract, you’re sure to have a good year’s supply for your dessert needs.

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