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How can I give flavor to my cake if I forgot to add vanilla extract?

Vanilla extract is a common component in many sweets, including cookies, cakes, and custards.

It’s also a tasty addition to beverages, meats, sauces, marinades, and other dishes. Though you might associate vanilla extract with desserts, you can also use it to pep up healthy meals, including:

  • oatmeal
  • smoothies
  • yogurt
  • roasted fruits

The fragrant extract is derived from Vanilla planifolia orchid flower bean pods. Its taste characteristic was often characterized as warm and flowery. Vanilla may be earthy while yet being softly sweet and pleasant (1, 2).

While vanilla extract is a pantry staple in many homes, there may be occasions when you don’t have any on hand or are unsure if you can omit it.

Well, whether you’re making a sweet or savory meal, you may use a variety of flavoring substances in lieu of vanilla.

This article includes 7 of the finest vanilla extract replacements.

There are several reasons why you may be seeking for a vanilla extract substitute.

Of course, you may just be in a hurry if you’ve ran out or your grocery shop is out.

Pricing may also be a consideration. Pure vanilla extract, the type most prized by bakers and home chefs alike, isn’t cheap.

For example, during a period of poor productivity in Madagascar’s harvests from 2016 to 2018, the price of vanilla skyrocketed from less than $100 per kg ($45 per pound) to $600 per kg ($272 per pound) (3, 4).

Also, some individuals avoid using pure vanilla extract due to its high alcohol level (at least 35%). (1).

Others are concerned about the vanilla industry’s long-term viability and may avoid using the product for environmental grounds (5, 6, 7, 8).

1. Vanilla beans

Vanilla extract is created by soaking vanilla beans in a mixture of alcohol and water. Thus, whole vanilla beans are its closest alternative flavor-wise.

To use a whole vanilla bean in place of vanilla extract, carefully slice the bean in half and scrape out the soft seed interior using a knife, fork, or toothpick. The outer bean pod may be discarded or repurposed, and the seeds can be used in lieu of vanilla essence.

Use the inner seeds of 1 full vanilla bean pod to replace 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of vanilla extract.

Additionally, you can find many flavorings made from vanilla beans online and in specialty grocery stores, each of which makes a fine substitute for vanilla extract. Several of these may also be made at home.

2. Flavored extracts

A variety of flavored extracts are created from different natural and artificial flavors, as is the case with vanilla.

Following vanilla, almond extract is one of the most often used extracts in baking. You can replace vanilla extract with almond extract at a 1:1 ratio.

That is, for every 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of vanilla extract used in the recipe, substitute it with 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of almond extract.

There are also orange, peppermint, and coffee extracts, among others, many of which work well with chocolate and baked products.

Still, using another flavor in place of vanilla extract could drastically alter the taste of your final dish. As a result, you may want to use less extract than usual to ensure that the taste isn’t overbearing.

3. Herbs and spices

People use vanilla to add depth of flavor to a dish. When you are unable to utilize vanilla, selecting another taste profile and rolling with it may be the next best alternative.

Instead of vanilla essence, try 1-2 teaspoons (15-30 mL) of chai spice in a batch of cookies or your favorite pound cake recipe.

A dried herb like lavender, like vanilla, gives a flowery dimension to oatmeal or yogurt.

Even when using vanilla to enhance the taste of savory meals, warm spices such as cinnamon and cloves may be able to compensate for a lack of vanilla.

4. Fruit zest

Use the zest or juice of citrus fruits, such as:

  • lemons
  • limes
  • oranges
  • grapefruits

Add 1-2 teaspoons (15-30 mL) of zest to baked products, salad dressings, sauces, or even to top off meals to enhance flavor without adding acidity or extra liquids.

If you’re not concerned about how the acidic juice will effect the texture or taste of your meal, replace 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of vanilla extract with 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of lemon juice.

5. Maple syrup

Several people substitute maple syrup for vanilla extract, using 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of syrup for each 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of extract.

Some people associate the fragrance and sweetness of maple syrup with vanilla.

It is important to note that using maple syrup for vanilla essence may influence the calorie amount of a meal. If you’re only using a few tablespoons or less, the swap won’t make much of a difference, but in larger amounts it could be more notable (9, 10, 11, 12).

The calories in 1 tablespoon (15 mL) of vanilla extract and a few other common replacements are shown below:

  • Vanilla extract: 37
  • Maple syrup: 52
  • Honey: 64
  • Liquor: 33

6. Honey

Honey is another liquid sweetener that may be readily substituted for vanilla extract in a 1:1 ratio. It will add flavor to your dish, though it’s milder than vanilla extract.

Since honey is sweeter than the other alternatives described in this article, you may want to lower the quantity of other sugars or sweeteners in your recipe to compensate.

It’s also likely that the extra sugar may change the texture of certain recipes.

7. Liquor

Since vanilla extract contains at least 35% alcohol, it stands to reason that substituting another form of alcohol may work (1).

Though they won’t deliver the same results as vanilla, other flavorful liquors will add their own layers of complexity to dishes. Among the options are:

  • brandy
  • rum
  • bourbon

Moreover, since their compositions are comparable to that of vanilla extract, liquors may not influence the texture or mouthfeel of recipes in the same way that other replacements do.

Imitation vanilla flavor — sometimes referred to as “vanilla essence” — is much more affordable than pure vanilla extract. You may be wondering whether paying more for pure vanilla extract makes a difference.

Many chefs believe that pure vanilla is the only way to go for dishes where vanilla is the major flavor component, such as pound cake or ice cream.

This is due to the fact that pure vanilla extracts include hundreds of chemical constituents, such as vanillin, tannins, and polyphenols, which give it a rich, powerful taste character (9, 1).

While most of the study on this area is older, pure vanilla is prized for its antioxidant content and possible therapeutic effects (14, 15, 16, 17).

When vanilla is used as a secondary flavor component, or if imitation vanilla is all that’s available, replacing it for pure extract at a 1:1 ratio should suffice.

Creating your own vanilla extract at home is simple and inexpensive.

Yet, preparing a deep-flavored vanilla extract takes weeks, if not months, to enable the flavor of the vanilla beans to permeate the extract combination.

As a consequence, if you’re short on time, creating your own vanilla extract may not be a realistic solution.

Here’s a basic recipe that’s worked well in my home kitchen:

Homemade vanilla extract

Makes 1 cup of homemade vanilla extract.


  • 6 vanilla beans
  • 1 cup of 70-proof liquor (vodka, rum, or bourbon)
  • an 8-ounce (237-mL) glass jar


  1. Sterilize your jar. To ensure that your storage container is clean and sanitary, wash it with warm, soapy water before gently rinsing it or immersing it in boiling water.
  2. Slice the vanilla beans open lengthwise. This allows the vanilla bean seeds to seep from the pod into the extract. Fill the glass jar halfway with vanilla beans and any seeds.
  3. Combine your extract. Pour the liquor into the jar, ensuring the beans are fully covered. Squeeze the jar hard and stir it around.
  4. Let it sit. Wait at least a few weeks for the vanilla beans to infuse the extract before using. Some individuals leave it for 6 months or more. Turning the extract upside down or shaking it lightly now and again helps the extract absorb the vanilla flavor.
  5. Enjoy. When it’s ready to use, you’ll notice the extract will have turned darker in color and stronger in aroma. You have the option of removing the vanilla beans or leaving them in the jar.
  6. To make it alcohol-free. For your extract base, mix 3/4 cup (177 mL) vegetable glycerin and 1/4 cup (59 mL) water in lieu of the liquor.

If you use liquor that is 70-80 proof, your extract will be 35-40% alcohol by volume.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) specifies that items branded and marketed as pure vanilla extract include at least 35% alcohol, which this method will help you attain (1).

This recipe is intended to serve as a guideline for producing your own at home. The type of vanilla beans you use, the alcohol type, and the length of time you allow the vanilla beans to steep could all vary to subtly affect the final product — the flavor possibilities are endless!

This dish is difficult to goof up as long as you use high-quality components.

There are many reasons why you could forego vanilla in your recipes and instead use one of these 7 replacements.

Although this will undoubtedly alter the taste of your recipe, it is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the texture or overall quality of the meal.

That, fortunately, is part of the joy of cooking! If you experiment with new ingredients, you might discover a delicious combo you’d never even considered before.