Beyond Vanilla: Exploring Unique and Surprising Flavorings for Baking and Cooking

Alexandra Chipurnoi
4 min readMay 30


Vanilla extract is an essential ingredient for those who enjoy baking. Not only is it an aromatic intensifier, but it also enriches the flavor of desserts like chocolate chip cookies and ice cream.

Derived from vanilla beans, vanilla extract is the star of vanilla ice cream, and when applied appropriately to a chocolate chip cookie recipe, it amplifies the aroma of the chocolate and butter. It’s also commonly used in cake, muffin, and brownie mixes, and sometimes in marinades, sauces, and vinaigrettes.

Vanilla might be the most commonly used extract in baking, but it’s far from the only option to add richness and flavor to desserts. Here is a look at eight other extracts and how they can be used in baking.

1. Mint/Peppermint

Mint extract is perfect for recipes that demand a minty and refreshing taste, whether it’s mint chip ice cream, mint chocolate syrup, or homemade thin mints. You can even add a dash of mint extract to homemade iced fudge bars. Some mint extract brands use pure oils and have a stronger taste, while others may include a blend of spearmint and peppermint oil, so it’s important to know what flavor you want to achieve before buying the extract.

There’s also pure peppermint extract, which can be added to hot chocolate or vanilla frosting as an easy flavor boost. Alternatively, you can use peppermint extract in cheesecake and chocolate bark recipes.

2. Almond

Almond extract adds a balanced fruity and nutty flavor to desserts, but you don’t need much — 1/2 teaspoon of extract is equal to 1 teaspoon of almond liqueur. Popular pastry recipes that call for almond extract include cranberry orange almond bread, almond raspberry shortbread cookies, cranberry-almond pound cake, and chewy almond cookies. You can even try mixing 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract with 1/2 cup of chocolate syrup to pour over ice cream or stir into milkshakes or coffee.

3. Lemon

Lemon, whether through extract, juice, or zest, is an incredibly useful ingredient to enhance the flavor profile of meals and desserts. Lemon juice and zest can add freshness and acidity to pasta, meats, and salads. Lemon extract, meanwhile, is infused with real lemon oil and helps add a touch of citrus flavor to baked goods. Half a teaspoon of lemon extract is equal to 1 teaspoon of lemon zest.

In addition to baked goods, try combining lemon extract with frozen strawberries to make cool and refreshing strawberry lemonade pops. Sugar and water are the only other ingredients you’ll need.

4. Coconut

Coconut extract, often accompanied by coconut flakes, is the headlining ingredient in desserts like coconut chiffon cake, cherry fudge truffle coconut cheesecake, and coconut clouds. It can also be used to add a tropical twist to other recipes that traditionally don’t call for coconut or to intensify the coconut flavor in macaroons and other desserts.

5. Banana

Banana bread is a popular and easy-to-make dessert that includes ripe bananas and vanilla extract. However, you can intensify the banana flavor by swapping the vanilla for banana extract. Try adding 1 teaspoon of banana extract to bread or muffin batters for a rich banana flavor. Banana extract can also be used in banana cream pie and banana swirl cheesecake, among other recipes.

6. Coffee

Coffee might not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of suitable extracts for baking, but coffee lovers will be happy to know that coffee extract not only adds a rich and bold flavor to desserts but is also easy to make at home. With a teaspoon of coffee extract, you can add an authentic coffee bean flavor to cakes, muffins, and cheesecakes, among other baked goods.

Coffee beans and vodka are all you need to create your own coffee extract. Simply crush 1/4 cup of the beans with either a rolling pin or mortar and pestle and add them to a jar with 1 cup of vodka. Swirl to combine, secure the lid, and leave at room temperature for about one week. Strain the mixture through a mesh sieve and you’ll have homemade, long-lasting coffee extract.

7. Orange

Similar to lemon extract, orange extract adds a burst of citrus flavor to everything from baked goods to cocktails. One teaspoon of orange extract is equal to 1 tablespoon of orange liqueur. Orange extract can be used in fruit pies, marmalades, sherbets, creams, and custards and is a perfect complement to dessert dishes with strawberries, pineapple, and chocolate. It can also add flavor to chicken and fish dishes and salad dressings.

8. Cotton Candy

You probably won’t be using cotton candy extract in your next meal, but it’s a fun and flavorful additive for desserts made for children. You can use a water-soluble cotton candy extract that adds sweetness to cakes, cookies, frosting, and hard candy recipes without the unnecessary sugar and calories in actual cotton candy.



Alexandra Chipurnoi