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10 Surprising Uses for Vanilla Extract You Haven’t Thought to Try

The uses for vanilla extract go way beyond baking. Learn how to add vanilla to tomato sauce, salad dressing and even seafood.

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Bottle with aromatic extract and dry vanilla beans on tableAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Boost Brown Butter Sauce

It’s a given that vanilla and brown butter go hand in hand when you’re baking. The same goes for your savory dishes. The roasty, toasty qualities of the two ingredients can add a new twist to your old favorites. Combine them in this recipe for Cranberry Ricotta Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sauce.

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Various roasted fruits and vegetableMaraZe/Shutterstock

Caramelize Roasted Vegetables

Your roasted vegetables are already caramelizing in the oven, and what goes great with caramel flavor? Vanilla, of course. Vanilla extract can boost the flavor of roasted vegetables in two ways. First, it intensifies their sweetness, and then, the alcohol adds another layer of caramelization as it evaporates. Find more secrets for best-ever roasted vegetables.

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Opened glass jar with fresh coconut oil on wooden backgroundAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

Amplify Tropical Flavors

You may not always think about it when you’re baking, but vanilla is a tropical ingredient. So naturally, it will complement the flavors of other tropical ingredients, like coconut. Stir some vanilla extract into Coconut Curry Cauliflower Soup while it simmers. It just might whisk you away to the islands!

Don’t have any vanilla on hand? Neilsen-Massey is our go-to vanilla extract.

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Raw White rice variety Arborio for Italian risotto dishes in glass jar on dark wooden background.Katarzyna Hurova/Shutterstock

Substitute for Wine in Risotto

If you want to make risotto but don’t have any wine, substitute the same amount of stock plus 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. The alcohol will evaporate and impart aroma and flavor, just like wine does. Swap in some vanilla extract to deepen the sweet and earthy elements of this Shiitake and Butternut Squash Risotto.

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tomato sauce with garlic and basil in a wooden bowl closeup. horizontal view from aboveAS Food studio/Shutterstock

Cut the Acidity in Tomato Sauce

Vanilla will mellow the acidity and step up the sweetness in all sorts of foods. Italian grandmothers know this, and have been adding it to tomato sauce for ages. Here’s another trick that will step up your homemade sauce.

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maple syrup in glass bottle on wooden tableshowcake/Shutterstock

Magnify the Taste of Maple

Can maple be any better? Only if you add some vanilla! Almost any recipe with maple will benefit from this secret ingredient, especially roasted vegetables that already have a bit of natural sugar. We like to add vanilla extract to this Maple Glazed Acorn Squash recipe.

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Homemade Vinaigrette with Thyme by fresh ingredientsvanillaechoes/Shutterstock

Add Refinement to Salad Dressings

A subtle hint of vanilla will soften the tanginess of vinegar-based salad dressings. This trick works remarkably well in salads with fresh or dried fruit. Blend some vanilla extract into the dressing of this Mango Grilled Chicken Salad and you’ll feel like you’re eating at a 5-star restaurant. Don’t miss our other salad ideas.

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Peach and lime lemonade, mojito cocktail with fresh fruit garnish, om light concrete background copy space selective focus; Shutterstock ID 1139051825; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of HomeRimma Bondarenko/Shutterstock

Make Fancy Cocktails

Vanilla tastes so good, don’t you just wish you could drink it? Well, you can! Kind of. Mix in a bit of vanilla extract to balance the tartness of your favorite cocktails, and make them just a little fancier. Give it a shot in this Pomegranate Cosmo.

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Taste of Home

Enhance Wine Braises

One of the best things about braising meats in wine is the warm aroma that fills the house all day. Use a little vanilla extract to enhance those aromas and add richness to a dish like this Beef Daube Provencal. It gives the recipe that special something no one can put their finger on. Let it be a mystery!

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Raw salmon fillets pepper salt dill lemon and rosemary on wooden tableMarian Weyo/Shutterstock

Use it in Seafood Recipes

Vanilla in a seafood recipe? Believe it or not, yes. Vanilla heightens the natural sweetness of the seafood, and pairs well with almost any fish or shellfish. Check out our best seafood dinners to get some tasty ideas for using vanilla extract.

Debra Cummings
A veteran of the food and travel industries, Debra has worked behind the seafood counter, waited tables in all sorts of restaurants, and spent time as a travel agent. She now writes about food and travel, and creates recipes inspired by tasty destinations. She wants to know everything you ate on your last vacation.