Run out of vanilla? These common vanilla sugar substitutes are the solution to your problem! They will make your cakes and cookies taste delicious even without the vanilla. Some of them are everyday ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen while others are more exotic. Whatever you choose, it will taste awesome!
Making vanilla sugar is a great way to preserve the flavor of the vanilla beans without using any alcohol or weird ingredients.
Whenever I run out of homemade vanilla sugar, or even vanilla extract, these are the most common substitutions that save the day. They have been tested in many of my Mediterranean dessert recipes and especially when making cakes, cookies and custards.
The quantities given below are for replacing store-bought vanilla sugar or a homemade vanilla sugar recipe which is as potent as the commercial type.
However, this is not an exact science. Depending on the brand or the quality of the vanilla you use, you may need to slightly adjust the quantity of the substitution.
I've kept the best substitute for vanilla for the end, not because I want to tease you, but because this ingredient is forbidden in the US!
If you often make substitutions in your kitchen, these best Greek yogurt substitutes are worth a read.
Other forms of vanilla
👉 Except for when using vanilla syrup, also add 1 Tablespoon of regular white sugar (or the equivalent sweetener such as stevia) to compensate for the lost sweetness.
1. Pure Vanilla Extract
Pure vanilla extract is an infusion of vanilla beans and alcohol. It is not suitable alternative for recipes where vanilla sugar is used as a topping. I love using Madagascar vanilla extract in white cakes such as this white chocolate cake with white ganache, because the vanilla flavor really shines.
How to use it: Mix it with the liquids of the recipe or cream it with the butter and sugar.
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar = 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2. Vanilla Bean Paste
This is basically vanilla extract with vanilla seeds and thickeners that create a viscous consistency.
How to use it: Mix it with the liquid that the recipe calls for or cream it with the butter.
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar = 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste
3. Fresh Vanilla Pod
This is the real thing! Real vanilla beans can vary in length so for better accuracy it is best to measure by length. Compared to vanilla extract, a vanilla bean pod is alcohol free and sugar free. Fresh vanilla pod is ideal in recipes where you heat the liquids because it needs to steep in order to infuse the liquid. This classic creme brulee (in just 5 steps) is the perfect recipe!
How to use it: Using a sharp knife, cut the bean in the middle (lengthwise). Scrape the tiny black seeds with the tip of the knife, add them to your mixture and stir very well. If you're making a custard or heating a liquid, you can also add the remaining pod (for additional flavor), but remember to discard it when continuing with the recipe.
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar = 2 inches grade A vanilla bean
4. Vanilla Powder
Vanilla powder is made with ground vanilla beans. Its main advantage is that it's sugar free and alcohol free.
Sometimes it can be made from the vanilla pods after they have been used to make extract. So the strength may differ from brand to brand.
How to use it: Mix with the sugar or the dry ingredients that the recipe calls for.
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar = 1 teaspoon of vanilla powder
5. Vanilla Syrup
This is a sweetener made with simple syrup infused with vanilla bean.
Vanilla syrup is best used in recipes where the liquid ratio is not important. Try it in coffee recipes like this freddo cappuccino or in hot beverages such as this Masala chai latte recipe. It's not recommended in baking recipes because it will change the wet-to-dry ratio.
How to use it: Mix it with the liquids that the recipe calls for.
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar = 1 tablespoon of vanilla syrup.
6. Imitation Vanilla Extract (Vanillin)
Imitation vanilla extract has vanillin as the chemical component responsible for the vanilla flavor. It is also known as vanilla essence.
According to sciencedirect.com, real vanilla extract contains about 1–2% of vanillin along more than 100 other flavor chemicals. On the other hand, artificial vanilla is made with vanillin only, which is usually diluted with water and alcohol.
In some countries you can find vanilla essence in powder form, sold in small white capsules with a red lid.
How to use it: Mix it with the liquid that the recipe calls for or cream it with the butter and sugar.
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar = 1 teaspoon of imitation vanilla or 1 capsule of powdered vanillin
7. Vanilla-Flavored Milk
Only for recipes requiring milk.
Replace the regular milk with vanilla flavored milk and you're done! If you want you can add some extra sugar to replace the sweetness from the vanilla sugar asked for.
Instead of vanilla-flavored milk you can also try a few tablespoons of vanilla coffee creamer but I haven't tried this personally so I can't say ho it will turn out.
Best (Not Vanilla) Substitutes
Keep in mind that these substitutes will not make your recipe taste like vanilla, however they will make it more flavorful and aromatic, giving it a unique taste.
Most of these will also work well as a substitute for other forms of vanilla, such as vanilla extract or paste!
👉 When replacing vanilla sugar, remember to also add 1 Tablespoon of regular sugar to compensate for the lost sweetness.
👨🍳 Expert Tip: When using aromatics, it's best to add them to the fat, sugar or alcohol of the recipe. This is because fat, sugar and alcohol have the ability to absorb and carry flavors.
8. (Bitter) Almond Extract
Almond extract has a distinct, intense fragrance that is characterized by the sweet and nutty aroma of almonds with a hint of marzipan (in most cases, pure almond extract is made from bitter almonds). It can be quite potent, so a little goes a long way!
Tip: Combine it with lemon zest to liven it up!
How to use it: Cream it with the butter and sugar or add it when you add the wet ingredients.
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar = ¼ teaspoon of almond extract (plus ½ teaspoon of lemon zest - optional).
9. Orange Zest
Orange zest has a bright, citrusy and floral aroma that is both refreshing and fragrant.
Tip: Mix it with ground cinnamon for a classic Mediterranean combination.
How to use it: Mix it with the sugar of the recipe or add it with the wet ingredients.
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar =1 tablespoon of orange zest (plus ¼ teaspoon of ground cinnamon - optional).
10. Lemon Zest
Lemon zest has a fresh, citrusy and crisp aroma with distinct lemony flavor.
Tip: Mix it with coconut oil or desiccated coconut for a tropical twist.
How to use it: Mix it with the sugar or add it with the wet ingredients.
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar = 1 tablespoon of lemon zest (optionally, replace ¼ cup of the fat that the recipe calls for with ¼ cup of coconut oil or just add ¼ cup of desiccated coconut).
This moist lemon olive oil cake is the perfect example of how well this combination works.
11. Cognac, Brandy, Bourbon, Dark Rum
All of these are types of distilled alcoholic beverages with a sweet, nutty aroma and hints of vanilla and caramel. They pair exceptionally well with orange.
Tip: Mix it with orange zest for additional floral notes.
How to use it: Mix it with the wet ingredients.
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar = 2 tablespoon of cognac, brandy or bourbon (plus ½ teaspoon of orange zest - optional). If possible reduce the liquids in the recipe (such as milk, water etc.) by 2 tablespoons.
12. Rose Water or Orange Blossom Water
With a sweet, mild and floral aroma, these scented waters will give your recipes a unique middle eastern character.
How to use it: Mix it with the liquids of the recipe.
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar = 2 tablespoon of rose water or orange blossom water. If possible reduce the liquids of the recipe (such as milk, water etc) by 2 tablespoons.
Mahlab is a spice made from the seeds of the St. Lucie cherry (Prunus mahaleb) with a sweet, nutty and cherry-like aroma.
Tip: Combine mahlab with orange zest and cloves for a unique Mediterranean and Middle-easter flavor.
This combination is used in Greek Easter Bread (tsoureki) and it's simply divine. The only downside is that mahlab may not be very easy to find in your local grocery store.
How to use it: Cream it with the butter or mix it with the sugar of the recipe.
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar = 1 teaspoon of ground mahlab (plus ½ teaspoon orange zest and ¼ teaspoon ground cloves - optional).
14. Cocoa powder
You're probably thinking that cocoa is practically the opposite of vanilla, so how could this be a good substitution?
Well, having nutty, earthy and flowery notes, a small amount of Dutch processed cocoa powder can give your recipe the boost that it needs.
Tip: Combine cocoa with nutmeg for a warm, creamy result.
How to use it: Mix it with the flour or the dry ingredients of the recipe.
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar = 1 teaspoon of Dutch-processed cocoa powder (plus ¼ teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg - optional).
Full of floral, herbaceous and woody notes, lavender (as an essential oil or dried and blended with sugar) is a unique replacement for vanilla sugar.
Tip: Combine it with orange zest to give your recipes a Parisian character.
How to use it: For the best results process in a food processor the dried lavender and the sugar that the recipe calls for or steep the lavender in milk.
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar = 1 teaspoon of dried culinary lavender (plus ½ teaspoon of orange zest - optional).
This blackberry lavender cake by sallysbakingaddiction.com is a great example of how to use dried lavender.
Cinnamon has a warm and spicy aroma that is widely used in culinary applications. Just a pinch of ground cinnamon can elevate your baked goods such as cookies and cakes. My mom's secret is to add a small cinnamon stick in her Greek rice pudding (Rizogalo) while it cooks.
Tip: Combine it with a bit of lemon zest to complement your desserts with citrusy, bright notes.
How to use it: Mix it with the sugar or the dry ingredients.
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar = ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon (plus ½ teaspoon of lemon zest - optional).
17. Tonka bean
These fragrant beans are probably the best substitute for vanilla. According to sambavanilla.com tonka beans have a complex taste with notes of vanilla, almonds, cinnamon and cloves among others. The bad thing is that tonka beans are illegal in United States because they contain coumarin. In large doses (about 30 beans) coumarin can be dangerous for your health.
How to use it: Cream it with the butter or mix it with the sugar of the recipe.
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar = ¼ teaspoon of ground tonka beans.
When to just leave it out
I don't suggest using palm sugar, monk fruit sweetener, coconut sugar, brown sugar, honey or maple syrup as a vanilla sugar substitute for the reason that they are not potent enough.
This means that you'll have to use a large amount of any of those to add flavor, something that will change (and probably ruin) your recipe.
However, in recipes that already ask something of the above, you can just omit the vanilla sugar and let the other flavors shine.
You can also do the same in recipes with butter, olive oil and other ingredients with strong aroma such as desiccated coconut, fresh fruit and fruit purees.
Key takeaway: You can omit the vanilla in every recipe where the vanilla is not the hero. In recipes where vanilla is the star, you should try to use one of the vanilla types mentioned or make another flavor the star!
These are some delicious recipes where you can use vanilla or your favorite substitute with great success:
If you want all the substitutions gathered in one place, then this substitutes chart will be useful!
According to Nielsen Massey,
1 tablespoon vanilla extract = 1 tablespoon vanilla paste = 1 tablespoon vanilla powder = 1 vanilla bean.
If we take into account that 1 Tablespoon = 3 teaspoons and that one grade A vanilla bean is approximately 6 inches, then:
1 teaspoon vanilla extract = 1 teaspoon vanilla paste = 1 teaspoon vanilla powder = ⅓ vanilla bean (or 2 inches)
Vanilla sugar is granulated sugar or caster sugar with the addition of real vanilla seeds or vanillin.
When real vanilla is used to infuse the sugar, then you may find it by the names: Natural, Real, or Madagascar vanilla sugar.
When vanillin is used then it is usually called artificially flavored, vanillin sugar or just vanilla sugar.