Almond Extract vs Vanilla Extract: Is One Better?

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If you’re at all familiar with baking, even if your experience is limited to baking mixes, you probably have encountered vanilla and almond extracts. They both are flavor enhancers, but they do taste quite different. Keep reading to learn more about vanilla vs almond extract, and when to use them.

What Is Almond Extract?

Almond extract is a food additive that is commonly used in baking. Almond extract is made by mixing alcohol, water, and most importantly, bitter almond. The alcohol sits with the almond so the almond flavor is extracted. It is used to add almond flavor while baking but it also enhances the flavors of other ingredients and adds depth. Notably, the nutty taste of almonds is absent in almond extract. 

What Is Vanilla Extract?

Vanilla extract is made by leaving vanilla pods to soak in alcohol and water. The alcohol draws out the vanilla flavor compounds so that the resulting filtered liquid tastes intensely like vanilla. In most recipes, vanilla extract is very commonly used when baking or preparing deserts, even if those desserts are chocolate or another flavor. 

Almond Extract vs Vanilla Extract

Benefits Of Almond Extract Over Vanilla Extract

It may not always be the first choice when cooking or baking, but almond extract may offer unique benefits over vanilla extract. Contrary to popular belief, almond extract doesn’t have a nutty flavor, but rather a strong, unique flavor that doesn’t taste exactly like raw or roasted almonds. It almost adds a warm sensation to desserts and has a perfume-like aroma. The flavor of almond extract is very potent, so when adding it to your desserts, do so sparingly. Almond extract really works well with other flavors and makes them shine; it’s great at complementing fruit and cream desserts.

Almond extract famously pairs well with most fruit toppings and is usually added to fruit toppings or fillings in pies and cakes. Many Italian and German desserts feature almond extract. Almond extract is used in pound cakes and quick breads, Marzipan desserts, classic European treats, and fruit pies.

Benefits Of Vanilla Extract Over Almond Extract

Vanilla extract is more commonly used in baking and preparing sweets. Most people blindly add vanilla extract to desserts, but due to the high alcohol content in vanilla extract, it actually doesn’t do well in high heat. Sometimes, the high heat makes the flavor evaporate along with the alcohol. Vanilla extract can be added to batters as usually the oven temperature isn’t hot enough, but in other situations it should be added after heat is applied. Don’t worry about the alcohol content, it is negligible.

Unlike almond extract which usually has a strong flavor, the flavor of vanilla extract is typically less intense. Vanilla complements chocolate, coffee, caramel, toffee, and butter. Vanilla can obviously also stand alone, as it is the most popular flavor of any sweet.

Best Recipes To Use Almond Extract

While there may be alternatives, almond extract is the perfect ingredient to intensify flavor in many desserts. Some of the best recipes that aren’t complete without almond extract include:

  • Cherry Pie: Whether you are using frozen or fresh cherries, cherry pies are always a hit! The almond extract is added to the cherry filling to enhance and deepen the cherry flavor.
  • Black Forest Cake: Almond extract is added to the chocolate cake batter to enhance the chocolate flavor, all while complementing the cherry filling. This is a classic cake that is really improved by the simple addition of almond extract.
  • Almond Crescent Cookies: This cookie is made with almond flour, which is enhanced when almond extract is added to the dough. The almond flour gives the cookies a nutty taste, while the extract adds that depth and warmth that make almond cookies special. There are many other cookie recipes that use almond extract, like fruit-filled thumbprint cookies.
  • Chocolate Brownies: Chocolate brownies are an easy-to-make, classic dessert. You can also tweak and customize your favorite brownie recipe a lot by adding different extracts and crunchy add-ins, like almond slivers. A little almond extract mixed into the batter can intensify the chocolate flavor.
  • Almond Ricotta Cake: This classic Italian cake uses a combination of almond extract and chopped almonds. The texture of the cake is moist and the flavor is comforting.

Best Recipes To Use Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is used in a lot of recipes, especially vanilla-themed ones. There are certain recipes where the vanilla extract is used to enhance the taste of something else, like coffee. Some recipes that are well suited to vanilla extract include, but are definitely not limited to: 

  • Vanilla Cake: Vanilla extract in vanilla cake is one of the times where vanilla extract should be used before the oven. With vanilla cake spending less than 30 minutes in the oven typically, the vanilla extract won’t evaporate. Moist, yellow vanilla cake is a classic for good reason.
  • Iced Coffee: Just as with almond extract, vanilla extract is also suited to drinks with iced coffee being the perfect example. Simply add some vanilla extract to coffee drinks (and other coffee flavored desserts) to intensify and add dimension to the coffee flavor.
  • Vanilla Pudding: Pudding is a snack-time favorite and vanilla extract is the star here. Whether you’re eating it as is, or making banana cream pudding, you’re sure to have a vanilla-flavored delight.    
  • Homemade Frosting or Icing: Vanilla frosting is the perfect topping for cakes and desserts and best of all, it’s very simple to whip together. Simply throw the softened butter, sugar, and vanilla extract in a bowl and beat it until you get the texture you are looking for, and your frosting is ready to go.
  • Vanilla Ice Cream: Vanilla ice cream is the most popular ice cream flavor and you can easily make it at home. This extract is the star of the show here.

Both almond and vanilla extracts can be used interchangeably, although they definitely have distinctly different flavors. They do, however, always enhance the taste of sweet treats. In many cases, both almond extract and vanilla extract have recipes where they are seemingly irreplaceable. Whatever you try, both almond and vanilla extracts are potent flavor enhancers that should always be included in baking.  

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