If you've ever indulged in margaritas, you've tasted the orange-flavored liqueur triple sec, one of the key ingredients. It's also used in other drink and food recipes that call for a sweet orange flavor. Triple sec is made from dried orange peels from the Caribbean island of Curaçao. If you need a clear, strong, orange-flavored liqueur and don’t have triple sec on hand, there are a few alternatives.
Triple sec is a variety of the liqueur, Curaçao. Regular Curaçao is made from bitter oranges and is about one-third less sweet than triple sec. Curaçao is also more expensive.
Cointreau is produced in France and uses both bitter and sweet orange peels sourced from all over the world. Cointreau has a similar flavor to triple sec but is slightly less sweet. The alcohol content of Cointreau is 40 percent, which makes it quite strong; the alcohol content of triple sec is between 15 percent and 40 percent.
Grand Marnier is a premium brand of Grand Curaçao and is up to three times more expensive than triple sec. It's also in the orange-flavored liqueur family but usually uses cognac as its base alcohol, so it has a darker, richer color. It's not as sweet as triple sec, which typically uses alcohol derived from sugar cane for its base. Like Cointreau, Grand Marnier is also made in France.
Brandy is a fine substitute for triple sec in baking recipes, but it doesn't work well as an alternative in drink recipes because it lacks an orange flavor. If you'd like to add the taste of orange in baking recipes, add a small amount of orange extract, orange oil, or orange zest to the brandy.
Orange Extract, Orange Oil, Orange Zest
Orange extract, orange oil, and orange zest can be used in place of triple sec in baking recipes, but they're not commonly used in drink recipes. All three are highly concentrated, so for every tablespoon of triple sec, substitute just 1 teaspoon orange extract, 1 to 2 drops orange oil, or 1 teaspoon orange zest.