Best Flavors and Scents to Complement Vanilla

By Kristie | October 10, 2020

Let’s face it: you’ve probably seen vanilla as a flavor for all kinds of things. Coffee. Ice Cream. Cake. And then there are the vanilla-scented things, like perfume, candles, and essential oils. Oftentimes, other flavors and smells and mixed in, resulting in some interesting — some doubtful — combinations.

With so many options to choose from, how are we to know what the best flavor or scent combinations are? After all, vanilla doesn’t go with absolutely everything. That’s why we’ve put together this article to help you imagine the right combinations for whatever vanilla-laced creation you have a mind to make or buy.

Fruity Notes

Since vanilla is a tropical spice, it goes especially well with tropical fruits like mango, pineapple, and coconut. Make a tropical cocktail with any of these flavors, with a brown liquor as a base — the sweetness of vanilla pairs especially well with whiskey, rum, or bourbon.

Or, if cocktails aren’t your cup of tea, try a fruit-based dessert or juice tinged with vanilla. Other fruits that go particularly well with the spice include cherry, fig, orange, and strawberry. The tartness of these fruits balances well with the sweetness of vanilla, bringing out the subtle flavor profiles of both as a result.

Credit: 2020 Creative Commons user breville
Credit: 2020 Creative Commons user 134348486@N05

Flowery Concoctions

Some of the best floral flavors — and scents — for a vanilla pairing include lavender, jasmine, and lily of the valley. You can make DIY perfumes, candles, or essential oils from home using these scents.

Vanilla is associated with calming aromatherapeutic properties, like reducing anxiety and depressive symptoms. Even if it weren’t, the wonderful scent of vanilla is reason enough to smell it for the heck of it!


The complexity of real vanilla knows no bounds, boasting over 250 different chemical compounds, most of which aren’t detectable by the human nose. So it’s no wonder that such a vibrant flavor and olfactory profile can complement a wide variety of different spices.

Take anise, for instance, whose sharp, earthy sweetness evokes the taste and smell of licorice. Paired with vanilla, any food comes boldly to life.

Or try finding the right balance of cinnamon and vanilla flavoring in your next batch of cookies. Neither of these spices is good in high concentrations, so finding the right proportion for your particular taste buds is a fun and tasty art form.


Vanilla is popular during the holiday season. Sprinkle it into warm and cozy baked goods like almond cakes or treats like chestnut jam and hazelnut lattes. Or experiment with other kinds of nuts you pair with vanilla, whether it’s a candle scent or a new family recipe you’re creating.


Credit: 2020 Creative Commons user rrrtem
Credit: 2020 Creative Commons user 92777967@N05

Chocolate and Buttercream

We hope it’s pretty self-explanatory that chocolate goes well with vanilla — just thinking of all the ice cream, cakes, and milkshakes that are possible with these flavors makes our mouths water.

The same goes for vanilla buttercream. The rich texture of the buttercream leaves a lasting impression no matter if you’re making cake frosting or macaron filling, allowing the taster to savor the rich subtlety of the real vanilla flecks you added.

Of course, you can substitute authentic vanilla for vanilla extract in any of the above recipe suggestions. It depends on the kind of flavor — or bake — you’re going for. For non-food or low-heat concoctions, you can use either vanilla extract or vanilla pods. But with high-heat bakes, like cookies and cakes, you might want to save the pods and opt for extract, since high heat can compromise the full complexity of flavors from pure vanilla beans.

Tell Us!

We hope you not only enjoy the final result of what you make but also the process of getting there. Let us know how it goes by leaving a comment or tagging us on social media!

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