Why Bourbon Is The Perfect Substitute For Vanilla Extract

In vanilla cupcakes, vanilla cream puffs, and basically any baked good that has the word "vanilla" in its name, the key ingredient, unsurprisingly, is vanilla. Without it, it just wouldn't taste the same. Vanilla gives many desserts their signature flavor, but it's also found in recipes like chocolate cake and pairs well with savory tomato-based dishes. In recipes where vanilla isn't the star, you might assume it isn't worth including, when in actuality, vanilla does more than just add flavor. According to Taste, it also acts as a flavor enhancer that works similar to salt or MSG. It brings out the saccharine of whatever it's added to, resulting in a sweeter final product, and, per Kitchn, it neutralizes acidity.

Though vanilla substitutes like almond extract and honey are great at replicating vanilla's sweeter notes, they don't function as flavor enhancers. Because of its unique properties, perfect alternatives for vanilla are usually hard to come by, but bourbon comes pretty close.

Bourbon and vanilla have similar properties

When you've run out of vanilla or are simply tired of paying so much for a tiny bottle of it, you might be tempted to swap it for another extract or settle for the imitation kind. But while those options work in a pinch, bourbon is a better solution all around. As Uproxx shares, this type of whiskey contains vanillin, which happens to be the same compound found in vanilla bean (via Food Crumbles). During the aging process, alcohol sits in a charred oak barrel and over time, a chemical reaction occurs that produces vanillin, Uproxx explains. This not only makes bourbon sweet, but also extremely similar to vanilla extract, since both are a combination of vanillin and alcohol.

When you substitute bourbon for vanilla, therefore, you'll get the same results in terms of flavor enhancing and sweetness, Food & Wine says. The taste won't be identical to vanilla when the alcohol evaporates. Instead, it will be more caramel-like. But even with the slight difference in taste, the two are so similar that they substitute at an even one to one ratio.