Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media

If you open the pantry to discover that all your vanilla extract is gone, and you wonder, "what can I use instead of vanilla extract," don't worry. There are plenty of substitutes for vanilla extract for cookies, cake or any other recipe you are preparing. From using vanilla extract substitutes to accommodate allergies to using whatever is on hand, finding a vanilla extract replacement is not time-consuming or difficult.

Types of Vanilla Extract

Two main types of vanilla extract are available: extract made from genuine vanilla beans and extract made with imitation flavors.

Real vanilla extract is made by splitting the entire vanilla pod to expose the seeds, which then are soaked in a solution of water and alcohol. Using both the beans and the pod itself to make an extract provides additional depth of flavor and more complexity. The flavor profile of the vanilla also becomes stronger the longer it soaks.

Vanilla flavor, which is the name often given to imitation vanilla extract or vanilla essence, is made up of compounds that include a glycerin base. Only a quarter of vanilla flavoring is composed of the organic vanillin compound, which gives the vanilla its smell and flavor. Because it contains significantly fewer vanilla compounds, it's a suitable vanilla extract replacement, though more of it will be required in a recipe to achieve the same level of vanilla taste.

Substitutes for Vanilla Extract

While no exact vanilla extract replacement exists, you can substitute plenty of other ingredients based on the recipe or baked good that you're preparing.

The most natural vanilla extract substitute is vanilla bean. Replace the vanilla extract in a recipe by scraping vanilla bean seeds directly into the batter. Use the seeds of a half pod for every teaspoon of vanilla extract asked for in the recipe.

Vanilla powder, which also can be made into a vanilla paste, can be used as an equal substitute for vanilla extract. Vanilla-flavored milks, such as almond or soy milk, can be used in recipes as well. Vanilla-flavored milks can serve as a vanilla extract replacement in an equal measurement within the recipe.

Alternative Extracts

If you're simply looking to add flavor to a recipe, try another extract as a substitute for vanilla flavor. You can swap lemon, mint, lavender or orange extract for vanilla as long as they complement the other flavors in the recipe. Substitute these extracts using a 1-to-1 ratio. For added depth and complexity, use almond extract in lieu of vanilla extract, but use half the quantity – almond extract is much more potent.

Common Items

Maple syrup or pancake syrup also work as a vanilla extract substitute. Replace the vanilla extract in a recipe with an equal amount of syrup. The flavor and taste of the finished recipe should not be affected too much by using syrup instead of vanilla.

Rum or brandy also can be traded for vanilla as long as you're OK with alcohol in the recipe. Use an equal amount of rum or brandy for the quantity of vanilla extract the recipe requires.

The Importance of Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is used in so many recipes, even chocolate recipes, because it enhances every other flavor in a recipe. Just as salt is a savory component in baking, vanilla extract works as a savory ingredient as well, lending complexity to the dish. Without vanilla extract, cakes, cookies and other baked goods have a flat flavor, lacking the dimension and depth of flavor we often expect when eating baked goods.