Can you substitute vanilla extract for vanilla syrup?

Vanilla extract and vanilla syrup are two common vanilla flavorings used in baking, drinks, and other recipes. While they both add vanilla flavor, there are some key differences between the two ingredients.

Quick Answer

In most cases, you can substitute vanilla extract for vanilla syrup. However, a few adjustments will need to be made:

  • Use 2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla extract for every 1/4 cup (60 mL) vanilla syrup called for
  • Reduce other liquids in the recipe by 2 tsp (10 mL) for each 1/4 cup (60 mL) syrup replaced
  • Add a bit of sugar or simple syrup to offset the lost sweetness from the vanilla syrup
  • For drinks, shakes, and other beverages, add the vanilla extract to taste or start with 1/4 tsp (1 mL) per serving

Vanilla Extract vs. Vanilla Syrup

Vanilla extract and vanilla syrup both add flavor and aroma derived from vanilla beans. However, there are some key differences:

  • Form: Vanilla extract is a liquid concentrate while vanilla syrup has a thicker, viscous consistency.
  • Sweetness: Vanilla syrup contains sugar which makes it sweet, while vanilla extract does not contain added sugars.
  • Flavor intensity: Vanilla extract has a stronger, more potent vanilla flavor compared to vanilla syrup.
  • Usages: Vanilla extract is commonly used in baked goods while vanilla syrup is popular in beverages, shakes, drizzles, and more.

Substitution Amount

When substituting vanilla extract for vanilla syrup, you’ll generally need more extract to achieve the same level of vanilla flavor. Here is a simple substitution ratio:

  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) vanilla syrup = 2 teaspoons (10 mL) vanilla extract

So for every 1/4 cup of vanilla syrup called for, use 2 tsp of vanilla extract instead. You may need to adjust this ratio slightly depending on the specific recipe and your personal taste preferences.

Adjusting Liquid in Recipes

One important thing to keep in mind when substituting vanilla extract is that it adds liquid to a recipe. Vanilla syrup is thicker and less fluid. So when swapping the two:

  • For every 1/4 cup (60 mL) vanilla syrup replaced, reduce other liquids in the recipe by 2 tsp (10 mL)

For example, if a recipe calls for 1/2 cup vanilla syrup and 2 cups milk, you would use:

  • 1/4 cup (4 tbsp) vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups milk (reduced by 4 tbsp or 1/4 cup)

This helps prevent the recipe from becoming too thin or wet from the extra liquid. Reducing other liquids also concentrates the vanilla flavor added.

Sweetness Adjustment

Vanilla syrup contains sugar which provides sweetness to recipes. Vanilla extract does not have added sugars. So when substituting vanilla extract, you’ll often need to add a bit of extra sweetener to compensate.

Here are a few ways to adjust sweetness when replacing vanilla syrup with extract:

  • Add 1-2 tbsp granulated sugar per 1/4 cup vanilla syrup replaced
  • Add 1-2 tbsp simple syrup or agave nectar per 1/4 cup vanilla syrup replaced
  • For drinks, add a touch of simple syrup to taste
  • For baked goods, you likely won’t need to adjust sweetness as other sugars in the recipe will compensate

Taste the recipe and add extra sweetener as needed. The amount will vary based on the particular recipe and your preferences.

Using in Drinks

Vanilla syrup is commonly used to add flavor to coffee, milkshakes, smoothies, and other beverages. When using vanilla extract instead, keep a few tips in mind:

  • Start with 1/4 tsp (1 mL) vanilla extract per 8-12 oz serving of a beverage
  • Add vanilla to taste, gradually increasing amount if you want stronger vanilla flavor
  • Add extra simple syrup or sugar to balance sweetness
  • Give drinks a quick stir to incorporate extract before serving

Too much vanilla extract can result in an overly strong medicinal flavor. So start with smaller amounts and tweak to your liking. Vanilla syrup dissolves easily, but extract may need extra stirring.

Baking Adjustments

When using vanilla extract in place of vanilla syrup in baked goods like cakes, cookies, and quick breads, a few adjustments will help:

  • Reduce other liquids by 2 tsp (10 mL) for every 1/4 cup (60 mL) syrup replaced
  • No need to adjust sweetness as sugar in the recipe will compensate
  • Add vanilla to wet ingredients or batters rather than dry ingredients
  • For recipes with little liquid, like cookies, you can add vanilla extract without reducing liquid

Vanilla extract incorporates well into moist batters and doughs. Take care not to add it directly to dry ingredients as it can cause clumping. Vanilla syrup’s thickness prevents this.

Substitution Ratio Table

This table summarizes the substitution ratio and adjustments for using vanilla extract in place of vanilla syrup:

Vanilla Syrup Vanilla Extract Liquid Adjustment Sweetness Adjustment
1/4 cup (60 mL) 2 tsp (10 mL) Reduce other liquids by 2 tsp (10 mL) Add 1-2 tbsp sugar or simple syrup
1/2 cup (120 mL) 4 tsp (20 mL) Reduce other liquids by 4 tsp (20 mL) Add 2-4 tbsp sugar or simple syrup
3/4 cup (180 mL) 6 tsp (30 mL) Reduce other liquids by 6 tsp (30 mL) Add 3-6 tbsp sugar or simple syrup
1 cup (240 mL) 8 tsp (40 mL) Reduce other liquids by 8 tsp (40 mL) Add 4-8 tbsp sugar or simple syrup

Tips for Substitution Success

Here are some top tips to ensure success when substituting vanilla extract for vanilla syrup:

  • Use fresh, high-quality vanilla extract for the best flavor
  • Make adjustments to liquid and sweetness in recipes
  • Start with less extract and add more to taste
  • For beverages, add vanilla extract and sweetener separately
  • Stir vigorously or shake drinks with extract to incorporate flavor
  • For cooking and baking, add vanilla extract to wet ingredients
  • In cookies and recipes with little liquid, you can add extract without reducing liquids

Buying Quality Vanilla Extract

Not all vanilla extracts are created equal. Higher quality extracts will provide better vanilla flavor. When shopping, look for:

  • Pure vanilla extract – should only contain vanilla bean extractives and alcohol
  • “Fold” or double-fold – indicates a higher concentration of vanilla
  • Vanilla bean specks – whole vanilla bean flecks are a sign of quality
  • Glass bottles – protects flavor better than plastic
  • Dark color – typically indicates more vanilla bean content

Imitation vanilla or vanilla flavoring won’t provide the same depth of flavor. Paying a bit more for quality vanilla extract is worth it.

Other Vanilla Syrup Substitutes

In addition to vanilla extract, there are a couple other potential substitutions for vanilla syrup:

  • Homemade vanilla simple syrup – equal parts sugar and water simmered with vanilla. Add to taste.
  • Vanilla powder or paste – contains vanilla seeds and pure flavor. Use about 1/4 tsp powder per 1 tbsp syrup.
  • Vanilla bean – infuse heated cream or milk with a whole split vanilla bean.

Vanilla powder provides convenience similar to syrup. Vanilla beans or homemade syrup can provide intense flavor.

When Not to Substitute

While vanilla extract can work in many recipes calling for vanilla syrup, there are a couple cases when it’s best not to substitute:

  • If a recipe relies on vanilla syrup for significant sweetness
  • In recipes where maintaining a thicker consistency is important
  • For drizzling over desserts or pancakes where you want the syrup to glaze nicely
  • In some hot coffee drinks where syrup mixes in more smoothly than extract

For these situations, it’s best to use real vanilla syrup or simple syrup infused with vanilla beans or extract. Vanilla extract may not provide the right texture or sweetness.

Storing Vanilla Extract

To retain flavor and aroma, be sure to store vanilla extract properly. Keep bottled vanilla extract in a cool, dark place like a pantry or cupboard. Avoid exposing it to excess light or heat.

Also, never store vanilla extract in the refrigerator. The cold can cause components of vanilla extract to crystallize or separate. Simply keep it in a cabinet away from stoves, dishwashers, and other heat sources.

If stored properly in a cool, dark location, vanilla extract will typically maintain optimal flavor for about 2 years. Old or expired extract may lose potency and aroma.


Vanilla extract can be an ideal 1:1 substitute for vanilla syrup in many recipes. The key is to make small adjustments to account for the differences in consistency and sweetness. Reduce other liquids to balance out the thinner extract. And add sugar or simple syrup to make up for the lost sweetness from vanilla syrup.

When swapping vanilla syrup for extract in beverages, add it gradually and to taste. For baking, incorporate it into wet ingredients. And be sure to use high quality extract for the best flavor.

With just a few tweaks and recipe adjustments, vanilla extract can work wonderfully in place of vanilla syrup in everything from cakes and cookies to lattes and milkshakes.

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