16+ Vanilla Sugar Substitutes

Mary and Brenda Maher

By Brenda & Mary

Last updated:

Whoever thinks of using vanilla sugar in baking must be a genius! Just a small twist can infuse a layer of warm and rich flavor into your baked goods. However, not every home baker always has some around in their kitchen. No sweat! Let me introduce you to more than 16 vanilla sugar alternatives to spice up your recipe with a similar vanilla note!

Brown and vanilla sugar on a background

What Is Vanilla Sugar?

The name says it all! Vanilla sugar is simply regular sugar mixed with vanilla powder or beans. Of course, it will add a delightfully vanilla-infused sweetness to everything from drinks to desserts. This aromatic sweetener is indeed a fancy addition to recipes like pies, cookies, muffins, and scones, as well as beverages like smoothies, coffee, tea, and cocoa.

The choice is endless! I love sprinkling it on my snickerdoodles, French toast, and sticky buns that keep my kids licking their fingertips. Want a surprising burst of flavor? Try replacing powdered sugar with store-bought vanilla sugar when making crinkles, bars, donuts, or whipping cream. It doesn’t pack a punch but wafts a tantalizing hint of vanilla that whets your appetite.

16+ Substitutes For Vanilla Sugar

1. Vanilla Powder

Okay, vanilla sugar can be quite hard to find at grocery stores around the US, but you can’t say the same with vanilla powder! Using it alone or mixing it with granulated sugar can both make a great substitute for vanilla extract. If you feel fancy, you can blend 1 cup of sugar with 2 tablespoons of vanilla powder.

As a stand-alone spice, this powder hits you with an even more intense vanilla flavor and aroma, so you’ll want to go easy on it. My go-to ratio is 1 teaspoon of vanilla powder for 1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar. This formula ensures the sweetness level is just on point, and the vanilla note doesn’t overshadow other flavor nuances. 

2. Vanilla Extract

Vanilla Exact

Hardly any cake recipes come without vanilla extract! This liquid brings the same complex flavor and inviting vanilla aroma as vanilla sugar does and even adds some moisture content to the cake. However, pure vanilla extract only makes up for the fragrance, not the sweetness.

Fret not! Just follow my formula: blend 1 tablespoon of regular sugar with ½ teaspoon of this extract and swap it for 1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar. 

Note that due to its alcohol content, this replacement for vanilla sugar only shines when folded into cake batter or cookie dough. Topping it on your sweets or incorporating it into drinks? Well, a dessert disaster, I must say!

3. Vanilla Bean Paste

Do you know what hits double as a vanilla sugar replacement? Vanilla bean paste! It’s made from fresh vanilla beans, extract, and sugar, so you can expect a more intense vanilla note here. 

That’s why it usually pops up as the star in vanilla-flavored cookies, custard, and ice cream. I think its thick, vicious paste will get on well with other ingredients in baking rather than served as a topping.

Its bold flavor profile also means you need to use a lighter hand with it, say 1 teaspoon of this paste for 1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar.

4. Vanilla Pod

Think vanilla extract delivers the most intense vanilla note? Think again! Vanilla bean pods pack a stronger punch and are even free of alcohol. Just grab a knife, cut lengthwise along the seam, and scrape out all those black beans. 

Some of you might be eager to toss the vanilla bean seeds in your batter, but hear me out: These beans only work for recipes that involve heating liquids. They will be thankful if you let them release all their essence on the heat and infuse your mixture with a delightful vanilla hint.

I mix all the seeds in one pod with ½ cup of sugar and swap them for vanilla sugar with the same amount.

5. Vanilla Syrup

When letting simple syrup soak up vanilla beans, we get vanilla syrup. This sweetener can make up for the sweetness and the vanilla aroma in a pinch. However, it is not a welcomed ingredient in many of my baking recipes because it can mess up with the dry-to-wet balance.

For denser treats like cookies and cakes, this syrup can get the job done since some extra moisture content from the syrup won’t be so off-putting. Never use it for soufflés, muffins, or other airy baked goods, or you might end up with a gummy or soggy mess.

A 1:1 substitution will do, but you need to cut back on other liquids, like water or milk, for the same consistency.

6. Vanilla-Flavored Milk

Milk and Cottage Cheese

Vanilla-flavored milk can substitute for vanilla sugar in any baking recipe that calls for milk. Otherwise, it might disrupt the ratio between dry and wet ingredients even more than vanilla syrup. 

This milk is less sweet than vanilla sugar, so I add some regular sugar for the desired sweetness. Double the amount of milk if you want to swap it for vanilla sugar, and remember to adjust other liquid ingredients in the recipe to maintain the texture.

7. Imitation Vanilla Extract

Imitation vanilla extract is an artificial sweetener that contains vanillin, which is responsible for the vanilla aroma in the extract. Though lacking the pure vanilla scent and other flavor dimensions from real beans, it’s still a budget-friendly substitute in mass-produced baked goods.

It delivers a stronger taste than vanilla sugar, so only use 1 teaspoon of imitation vanilla in place of 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Not favor the one-dimensional, artificial taste? Here’s my secret sauce: I use a little more butter and add a pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg to the batter to introduce more nuances of flavor.

8. Turbinado/Brown Sugar

Well, turbinado sugar is simply natural brown sugar that retains some of the molasses from sugarcane, giving it a richer flavor and a golden brown color. 

While not compensating for that classic vanilla flavor, brown sugar spices up our baked goods with a tempting caramel scent. I sometimes even sprinkle it on pancakes, and my kids really enjoy it.

This alternative delivers the same sweetness as vanilla sugar, so swap it at a 1:1 ratio.

9. Almond Extract

Got some almond extract on hand? You are in for a distinct vanilla sugar substitute that adds more nuances to the flavor profile—a rich sweetness with a bitter aftertaste. Surprisingly, I can’t spot any almond hints in my treats, and it does a great job of bringing more complexity to the table.

Since it boasts an intense taste, only use ½ teaspoon of this extract to replace 1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar. Here’s my favorite trick: I grate in some lemon zest to get a citrusy zip that cuts through the richness of almond extract and brightens things up.

10. Honey

Let’s be honest: Substituting honey for vanilla sugar is a daring trade. You have to sacrifice the vanilla scent, but your baked goods receive a pleasant floral note in return. If vanilla is not a must-have flavor nuance, this swap can work just fine and even bring some health benefits from honey. 

Since this natural sweetener is stronger than vanilla sugar, it’s best to cut down its amount in half. Like other syrups, the sticky and runny consistency of honey might throw off the wet-to-dry ratio of your recipe, so you need to adjust other ingredients properly.

11. Coconut Sugar

coconut sugar

Looking for a healthy substitute for vanilla sugar? I’ve got your back! Coconut sugar is rich in nutrients and vitamins with a lower glycemic index, promoting your body to absorb glucose better. 

Flavor-wise, it can introduce a whisper of butterscotch to your baked goods. That’s why I occasionally dust it on my desserts for a burst of flavor. If you want to fold it in the batter, cut it back to ⅔ of the vanilla sugar amount the recipe calls for.

12. Palm Sugar

Don’t mistake this for coconut sugar! Though both are derived from the sap of palm trees, palm sugar delivers a smokier caramel hint than the other. 

Other than that, it boasts a rather comparable sweetness to brown or vanilla sugar. So, you can use the same amount in any dessert recipe. 

13. Maple Syrup/Sugar

Maple Syrup

Not a vanilla fan? No problem! Try swapping with maple syrup or sugar to completely erase the vanilla hint. These sweeteners spice up your recipe with a distinct twist that tastes like, well, maple! Sweet, caramel, buttery, and even woody notes all packed in one, igniting a flavor party in your mouth. 

If you choose the syrup, only use half the amount. Maple sugar, on the other hand, can be substituted with the same amount. 

14. Muscovado Sugar

Like other types of sugar, muscovado is also extracted from sugarcane but retains a higher amount of molasses. If I had to describe its taste, it would be a cross between brown and palm sugar—it’s easy to notice the presence of a caramel, toffee note with a subtle smokiness.

Of course, you won’t catch any hint of vanilla with this substitution, but it can stand in nicely for vanilla sugar regarding sweetness and complexity. You can swap at a 1:1 ratio in most baked goods or use it as a topping.

15. Powdered Or Granulated Sugar

Granulated sugar in bowl

Replace regular sugar with vanilla sugar? Easy peasy! This is the simplest way you can think of when in a hurry. Note that powdered/icing sugar or granulated sugar can’t deliver the same depth of flavor as vanilla sugar. They can only make up for the lack of sweetness, so this is always my last resort. 

Icing sugar works well in frosting or as a dusting sugar, while regular type can replace vanilla sugar in most baking recipes. Either way, a 1:1 replacement can get the job done.

16. Unexpected Swaps

Vanilla isn’t the only flavor game in town! As a seasoned baker, I let my creativity run wild and experiment with other less common substitutes. And you know what? I’ve come up with some secret weapons that can keep customers lining up in front of my bakery! Here are a few of them:

  • Cinnamon: A little cinnamon powder goes a long way! It infuses my baked goods with inviting warmth that makes us all forget the lack of vanilla. Remember to only add a pinch of it, say ½ teaspoon.
  • Orange/lemon zest: Never underestimate the power of these citrusy additions. Substitute it with the same amount, and a fragrant and refreshing treat awaits!
  • Digestifs: Alcoholic beverages and cakes sound like a crazy duo, right? Trust me, the alcohol will soon be cooked off in the oven, leaving only a delightfully sweet and vanilla hint. Dark rum, bourbon, cognac, and brandy are my go-tos. Double the amount of these digestifs to achieve the best results.

Note: If you use one of these substitutes, add more sugar to the recipe to compensate for the sweetness.

17. Skip It!

Unless vanilla is the soul of your recipe, leaving it out doesn’t hurt the flavor profile that much! Plenty of delicious desserts can be made without it. As long as you keep the sweetness balanced, other spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or even a sprinkle of ginger can add wonderful flavor. Your treats will come out just as delicious!

How To Make Vanilla Sugar With Vanilla Pods

While you can directly swap vanilla bean pods for vanilla sugar, taking an extra step helps mimic the original taste better. You only need to prepare 2 cups of white sugar and a vanilla pod. Here are the steps to do:

  • Step 1: Dump 2 cups of sugar in a bowl. Cut the pod lengthwise to expose the black seeds. Remove them from the pod and put them into the sugar bowl.
  • Step 2: Whisk the mixture until the vanilla seeds are completely combined with the sugar without leaving any clumps.
  • Step 3: Pour that mixture into an airtight container, like a glass jar. Put the empty pod into it to enhance the flavor. Give the sugar about 2 weeks to fully soak up the vanilla flavor. There you have it—homemade vanilla sugar.


Where To Buy Vanilla Sugar?

Grocery stores or baking stores are where you can easily find vanilla sugar. You can also buy it from online marketplaces like Amazon.

Are Vanilla Powder And Vanilla Sugar The Same?

No. Vanilla powder is ground vanilla beans, so it boasts a stronger flavor. Vanilla sugar, on the other hand, is regular sugar that’s been flavored with vanilla beans or powder.

Is Vanilla Sugar Really Necessary In Baking?

No. You can always swap it for other sweeteners.

Share on:
Mary and Brenda Maher

Mary & Brenda Maher

Mary & Brenda Maher, are the founders of Cake Girls, a Chicago-based online baking shop specializing in cake supplies, party decor, and DIY cake tutorials. They are known for their elaborate and artistic cake creations, which have been featured on the Food Network Challenge and in a reality show, Amazing Wedding Cakes.

Leave a Comment