There's one special little ingredient that makes all those baked goods and desserts oh so yummy: vanilla extract! But what do you do when your supply's run dry and you've got days until your next grocery run? Don't you worry! We've got the hookup on substitutes you can swap in, plus a recipe for how to make your own vanilla extract!

Vanilla extract in a jar with a small bowl with a spoon on a white counter from ShelfCooking.com

We've never met a dessert we didn't like. It's like love in the form of food. One common ingredient that's so often a fragrant and flavorful part of those recipes is amazing vanilla extract. It's oh so delicious.

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Because recipes so often sing the praises of (and call for) vanilla extract, there may be days where you just don't have it on hand. Don't let that stop you from mixing up a delicious dessert. Try out one of these handy substitutes instead — or go the extra mile and make your own vanilla extract using our alcohol-free recipe!



HOW VANILLA EXTRACT IS MADE

Did you know 80% of the world's vanilla is harvested in Madagascar from the pod of a tropical orchid? And since SO much of the world's vanilla crop comes from one place, it can become an issue if there is a major weather event like a monsoon. Crops being ruined = less vanilla which costs MORE to buy!

If you've been a fan of our sister site Fun Cheap or Free for ANY amount of time, then you know that we advocate shopping for groceries only once per week.

So, what do you do if your vanilla supply has utterly depleted and you want to avoid a trip to the store? Keep reading for our handy list of substitute options for the days when you just don't have any on-hand.


WHAT CAN I SUBSTITUTE FOR VANILLA EXTRACT?

jar of maple syrup as substitute for vanilla extract from ShelfCooking.com

If vanilla extract is a no-go for now, then any of the following options will get the job done. Our favorite is maple syrup since it's readily available in most homes:

  • Maple Syrup – Maple syrup can easily sub into recipes at a one for one ratio. Don't have any on hand? Make maple syrup with our recipe.
  • Almond ExtractAlmond extract has a similar nutty flavor that stands in for vanilla quite well.
  • Vanilla Almond Milk – Surprisingly, almond milk or another plant-based milk works well as long as it is vanilla-flavored.
  • Honey – If you sub in honey, make sure to reduce the sugar in your recipe, or it may end up too sweet.
  • Vanilla Powder – Yup, it's a thing. Vanilla powder is made by crushing vanilla beans until they are powder-like. You can add in the same amount of vanilla powder as vanilla extract and it will taste just the same.
  • Imitation VanillaImitation vanilla is made with vanilla flavoring instead of vanilla beans.
  • Other Spices – There are other spice options that can work well, too. Start with a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves — all of which have a similar depth to vanilla — and see how it tastes.

All of these options do a great job of filling in when vanilla extract isn't a choice. We can't wait to hear which one you use and how it turns out!


HOMEMADE VANILLA EXTRACT RECIPE

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If you really want to be an over-achiever (or under- if you just don't feel like going out), then make this non-alcoholic vanilla extract recipe adapted from The Spruce Eats. Heads up, though: this isn't the best option if you need vanilla right away. Homemade vanilla extract has to “cure” for up to two months before use, so give it time. But the wait is totally worth it and will take your baking to the next level!

DIY vanilla extract showing how to make vanilla extract from ShelfCooking.com

Homemade Vanilla Extract Recipe

This simple vanilla extract recipe calls for only three ingredients plus a bottle. Anyone can master this and it has a shelf life of over four years.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 60 d
Total Time 60 d 10 mins
Course Ingredient
Cuisine American

Ingredients
  

  • 1 part water
  • 3 whole vanilla beans
  • 3 parts food-grade vegetable glycerin
  • 1 empty glass bottle, dark brown or clear

Instructions
 

  • The exact amounts of water and glycerin you use will depend on the size of your bottle. You will want to use 3 whole vanilla beans for every cup of glycerin you use.
  • Add 3 parts glycerin and 1 part water together and pour it into the glass bottle using a funnel. Fill the bottle 2/3 full.
  • Cut three vanilla beans open lengthwise for every cup of glycerin you use.
  • Add the beans into the bottle of glycerin making sure they are fully submerged.
  • Add a cap to the bottle and store in a cool, dark place for two months. Shake the bottle once per week.
  • After two months, your homemade extract is ready to use.
Keyword vanilla extract

It's so easy, right? This vanilla recipe also makes for a great homemade gift idea! It's also so delicious we can't really blame you if you wanted to make some extra to keep for yourself.


BONUS TIPS ABOUT YOUR DIY EXTRACT

Here are some handy bonus tips you should be aware of when you make homemade vanilla extract. It makes everything totally worth the effort:

  • Don't Skip the Glycerin – Because the glycerin is the preservative, don't try to skip it. A homemade vanilla extract with only water and vanilla beans will be a trap for bacteria.
  • It Gets Easier Each Time – If you plan to make more than one batch of extract, you can just top off the glycerin for the next round. The vanilla beans can be used 2-3 times before they are done.
  • No Refrigeration Needed – The glycerin acts as a shelf-stable preservative for your DIY vanilla extract, so there's no refrigeration needed!
  • It's Sugar Free – Glycerin doesn't contain any sugar, plus your handy homemade extract is vegan-friendly!
  • It's Non-Alcoholic – Most homemade vanilla extracts are made using vodka or another type of alcohol. Glycerine is alcohol-free!

In fact, this recipe is so versatile and fun to make, we're pretty sure you won't go back to buying from the store again. Or you'll find your neighbors asking to borrow some on a fairly regular basis. There's no shame in that game!


We are really stoked for you to try out this DIY extract along with the super easy substitutes in a pinch. Comment below and tell us which substitute you used for vanilla extract and the recipe it worked well in.

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Looking for more great kitchen hacks and ingredient substitutes?

Happy DIY'ing!