If you want the flavor of vanilla in a sweet syrup, there are tons of vanilla syrups available at the grocery store or on Amazon. But what if you’re all out, or you don’t have the supplies to make it at home?
If flavor is important and you do have the ingredients, a fresh, homemade vanilla bean simple syrup is going to taste the absolute best. I love to whip up a batch for cocktails, iced coffees, and my Starbucks copycat Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew.
However, if you don’t have store bought syrup or vanilla beans, there are still ways to enjoy that sweet vanilla flavor at home. Let’s dive into the best vanilla syrup substitutes.
Vanilla extract + simple syrup
The easiest substitution is to make a batch of simple syrup and add a teaspoon or so of vanilla extract. The flavor can be a bit strong if you use too much extract, so only add a little at a time, to taste.
You’ll have the best results if you use real vanilla extract, rather than imitation. It is expensive, but there is no comparison when it comes to flavor.
In my opinion, fake vanilla flavor can be really off-putting, especially if you use too much. Imitation vanilla extract can take on an almost bitter sort of flavor, so if it’s all you have, just use it sparingly.
Other creative substitutions
What you can substitute for vanilla simple syrup really depends on what application you need it for. If vanilla flavor is a definite requirement, you’ll want to add a tiny bit of vanilla extract.
If your recipe is more flexible, you can use other sweeteners like plain simple syrup, other flavored syrups, or even natural liquid sweeteners like honey or maple syrup. I’ve done a lot of experimenting with syrups over the years and tried all the best simple syrup substitutes.
Here are some good alternatives for recipes that call for vanilla syrup:
Caramel syrup is another one of those coffee syrups that are easy to find at the grocery store. And chances are, if you’re mixing up a lot of your own coffee drinks at home, you might have some caramel syrup.
If you don’t have any around, it’s actually not that hard to make either! Caramel sauce can seem a little intimidating, but with a little practice, you will become a pro in no time.
The difference between caramel syrup and caramel sauce is the addition of butter and cream. Traditional caramel sauce is made by heating sugar and a little water until the sugar has melted and begun to caramelize, then adding butter and cream to create a thick and creamy, silky sauce. This type of caramel can be used in drinks, but it’s best used for hot drinks, rather than iced ones.
To make a butter and cream-free caramel syrup that incorporates easily into drinks of all kinds, you’ll just substitute water. This way you get the delicious caramelized sugar flavor, but without the added oiliness of the butter or the dairy from the cream.
The best part of this easy caramel syrup is that all you need is water and sugar! And while it’s not the same as vanilla syrup, caramel and vanilla both go great in a lot of the same drinks, so it’s worth a shot.
Brown sugar simple syrup
Making a simple syrup with brown sugar will instantly add more flavor to your drinks than simple syrup made with plain white sugar. Brown sugar is a mixture of white sugar and molasses, which has characteristic notes of caramel, toffee, and smoke.
Add a dash of vanilla extract for a tasty vanilla simple syrup substitute that’s especially great around the holidays.
When it comes to an easy substitution, it doesn’t get much easier than honey. You likely have some in your pantry, and it’s characteristic flavor can be an excellent swap for vanilla.
Keep in mind that honey is very thick and tends to harden in cold drinks. To make it easy to incorporate, you’ll want to make honey syrup.
Like vanilla syrup, maple has a heavenly sweet, somewhat fruity flavor. Also like vanilla, maple can get overpowering if used in excess. But if used in moderation, it goes great in coffees, tea, cocktails, and drinks of all kinds.
Like honey, maple syrup is quite thick. You may need to dilute it somewhat to make it easier to mix with. Depending on how sweet you need it, you can mix 2 parts of maple syrup with 1 part water, or use equal parts maple syrup and water.
Vanilla is used in the process of turning raw cacao into sweet chocolate, so what better substitution than chocolate syrup! Add a dash of vanilla extract to enhance the flavor even more.
Vanilla almond milk (sweetened)
This one sounds a little crazy, but not if you need vanilla simple syrup for a coffee or tea-based drink! Vanilla flavored almond milk will lend that classic flavor, and you can always add more sweetener to taste. Other vanilla-flavored milks are great options for this kind of drink, too.