vanilla bean substitute

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Are you making a recipe that calls for vanilla beans? Are you also looking for a good vanilla bean substitute? I get it. These little pods are expensive and may not always be readily available so a good substitute for vanilla beans may be your best bet depending on the recipe you’re making. Keep reading to find some great vanilla bean substitute options as well as to learn a little about vanilla beans.

vanilla bean substitute

Vanilla beans are 5-7 inch green pods of an orchid plant called the vanilla orchid or Vanilla planifolia. Vanilla beans are the second most expensive spice in the world after saffron. Indeed, 50 grade A Madagascar vanilla beans on amazon can cost you $55!

They’re picked green and then go through a process of curing whereby about 60 – 70% of their moisture is removed, the flavors are brought out and the pods become brown and somewhat shriveled. 

The pods are then split in half and the thousands of tiny little vanilla seeds are scraped out with the back of a knife to then be used in food preparations.

Vanilla beans have a flavor that can be referred to as rich, buttery, sweet, woody, and perfumed.

Vanilla beans are used in many ways in cooking, baking, making desserts, making extracts, and brewing. They’re used to make cakes, cookies, crème brûlée, vanilla extract, ice creams and so much more!

But, what if you’re out of this spice, or it’s just too expensive for your budget and you’d rather find a cheaper alternative? Are these options even available? Thankfully, they are and you can keep reading to find out how to substitute vanilla beans for more cost-effective items below!

Best substitutes for vanilla beans 

Vanilla extract

vanilla extract


Vanilla extract is one of the best substitutes for vanilla beans. Vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in an ethyl alcohol and water mixture. Vanilla extract is sold widely in almost all stores at a fairly reasonable price.

Good quality vanilla extract has a flavor that is similar to vanilla beans in that it is deep, rich, and complex. You can use vanilla extract in place of vanilla beans for baked goods like cookies, cakes, cupcakes, muffins, pies, and more. It even works well for oatmeal, french toast, smoothies, ice cream, cocktails, coffee drinks, frosting, meats, seafood and so much more.

Substitution: 1 whole vanilla bean = 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Vanilla bean paste

Another good vanilla bean replacement is vanilla bean paste. Vanilla bean paste is a thick, syrup-like liquid made with ingredients like vanilla extract, vanilla bean seeds, xanthan gum, and sugar. It is quite a popular item so you can find it in most stores at a reasonable price. It has that nice rich flavor of vanilla but with the extra sweetness. 

Use vanilla bean paste in place of vanilla beans in recipes like ice cream, milkshakes, smoothies, puddings, cookies, cakes, custards, crème brûlée, pancakes, frosting, and any other sweet recipes that call for vanilla beans or where the vanilla bean flecks are welcome. According to Heilala Vanilla, a brand that makes vanilla bean paste from ethically sourced vanilla beans, an ideal conversion is 1 teaspoon of paste for 1 whole vanilla bean.

Substitution: 1 whole vanilla bean = 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste

Vanilla bean powder

If you happen to have it in your kitchen, or you have quick access to it, vanilla bean powder also makes a good vanilla bean alternative. Vanilla bean powder is made by grinding dried whole vanilla bean pods. It thus has a very rich and potent vanilla flavor that works well to replace whole vanilla beans quite easily. 

If you’re going to use this, stick to a brand that is 100% raw and made with 100% vanilla bean pods with no other ingredients included 

Use vanilla bean powder to make all types of baked goods that call for vanilla beans, as well as for drinks like coffee, hot chocolate, smoothies, milkshakes, teas. It also works well in ice creams, desserts, cooking, brews, infusions and more.

Substitution: 1 whole vanilla bean = 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean powder

Vanilla sugar

Vanilla sugar can also be used to replace vanilla beans in a pinch. Vanilla sugar is typically made from a combination of raw sugar, vanilla extract and vanilla bean powder. It is sweet, due to the the raw sugar it contains, and so it will work mainly for sweet recipes like cakes, muffins, puddings, custards, ice creams other sweet desserts as well as sweet drinks like coffees, teas, cocktails and more.

Note: It is important to adjust (or eliminate out) the other sources of sugar in any of the recipes listed above so that the end result isn’t too sweet.

FAQs about vanilla beans

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