When you ask for a liqueur in a bar or restaurant, you'll get a distilled alcoholic beverage sweetened and flavored with another ingredient. Seeds, nuts, herbs, flowers, spices and fruits, like orange zest or orange peel, can be blended into the alcohol before, during or after distilling, but all give an intense flavor and aroma to the liqueur. So many types exist that it's fairly easy to find substitutes for orange liqueurs.
Varieties of Orange Liqueur
If you're out of your favorite orange liqueur, you can substitute another one and have very little change in taste. The least sweet variety is Grand Marnier, with a brandy base, either yellow or red, containing vanilla and spices. Cointreau is a clear orange liqueur with an intense and somewhat bitter taste that is somewhat less sweet than Grand Marnier. It's made from sour and sweet orange peels. Like Cointreau, curacao comes from orange peels, and is sweeter than Cointreau or Grand Marnier. Finally, triple sec, made from sweet and bitter oranges, is the sweetest of the orange liqueurs.
Other Orange Flavored Liquids
Orange flavored liquids won't have the sweetness or the intense flavor of liqueurs, but they will add the same citrus flavor and scent to drinks, sauces or baked goods. You'll need to use more of these substitutes than you would liqueurs – taste as you go when adding them to see just how much you'll need. Adding too much liquid could ruin the ratio of dry to wet ingredients in some recipes.
And, you won't need to worry about any negative effects from alcohol, so you can go ahead and have that glass of wine with your meal. Alternative liquids include: orange flower water, a mild flavored choice; orange juice or orange-juice concentrate, which work for some sauces or drinks; orange extract, which is more potent than orange water and is bitter; and oil of orange, which is very potent and measured drop by drop.
Other Fruit Liqueurs
If you're willing to substitute another fruit flavor for orange, you have lots of other fruity liqueurs to choose from. Liqueurs made from fruits other than oranges give the same intense flavor and aroma of orange liqueur, but they obviously don't taste like orange. For the most part, you can substitute these liqueurs on a one-to-one basis. Citrus liqueurs in mandarin or lemon flavors are closest to orange – look for limoncello, Licor 43 or Tuaca. Liqueurs in other fruit flavors include apricot, melon (called Midori), pear or raspberry.
Susan Lundman began writing about her love of cooking, ingredient choices, menu planning and healthy eating after working for 20 years on children's issues at a nonprofit organization. She has written about food online professionally for ten years on numerous websites, and has provided family and friends with homemade recipes and stories about culinary adventures. Lundman received her M.A. from Stanford University.