You know that sinking feeling of discovering you have one missing ingredient? You've already committed to baking those biscotti, brownies, or cookies and you realize the recipe calls for almond extract. You panic. You say a few bad words. But then you pull yourself together and come up with some almond extract substitute ideas. So, what can you use to get that sweet nutty flavor in all your baked goods without an emergency run to the grocery store?
Can I Make Almond Extract From Scratch?
You can, but it's going to take longer than you want to wait. You'll have to wait two months for your own almond extract to be ready. If you have that kind of time until the church or PTA bake sale, then knock yourself out. You'll need a dozen chopped and lightly toasted almonds. Put all the almonds in a container and cover with vodka. For non-alcoholic extract, you can use food grade glycerin. For the almond oil to be extracted, this magic needs to sit for a few months, and we don't have that kind of time. So let's come up with some emergency ideas.
Almond Extract Substitutes
Vanilla extract is simply vanilla beans steeped in a mixture of water and alcohol. While vanilla flavoring and almond flavoring are not the same thing, they are almost always interchangeable in a recipe. Obviously you lose the nuttiness of the almonds but you do keep the soft sweetness of the vanilla.
Almond extract is a more concentrated flavor so if you're swapping it for vanilla, make sure to at least double the amount of vanilla extract in your recipe. Using real vanilla extract instead of imitation vanilla extract is the closer swap since the real vanilla is more concentrated.
Discovering you were out of a key ingredient may have already driven you to your liquor cabinet. Good. Stay there. Do you have a bottle of Amaretto? This almond-flavored liqueur is another almond extract substitute. Amaretto has a really sweet and intense almond taste but since it's a liquid, you'll need to use more of it to get the almond flavor to come through. This might require some experimentation, but you can give it a try.
Cinnamon is another option for an almond extract substitute. You'll still get that warm aroma from almond flavor when baked. Cinnamon is much stronger, so don't use an equal amount. About a half teaspoon of cinnamon will work for 2 drops of almond extract. Cinnamon and chocolate also work well together. Think Mexican Hot Chocolate.
Mint extract and chocolate extract are surprisingly good substitutes too. Mint and chocolate go together in all kinds of treats like Thin Mints, Grasshoppers, and obviously mint chocolate chip ice cream. While it will change the recipe overall, you may find you like that cookie recipe even more with the substitutes. If not, it's just a cookie.
Another flavor and aroma replacement for almond extract is orange zest. The orange flavor goes with fruit, chocolate, vanilla, and so many pastries and baked good recipes. Either use a cheese grater to get the orange peel zest or simply use some seriously fresh-squeezed orange juice. The zest has that intense oil from the peel which will give you more of an extract flavor.
The Difference Between Imitation Almond Extract & Pure Almond Extract
Pure almond extract contains bitter almond oil, water, and alcohol. The almond flavor comes from a naturally occurring chemical called benzaldehyde, which is found in almond oil.
Food scientists can make synthetic benzaldehyde in a lab now and many imitation extracts such as vanilla and almond contain the synthetic stuff. One important benefit of using imitation almond extract is that it's safe for anyone with a nut allergy. Taste wise, they're almost impossible to tell apart.