Here's Why Vanilla Extract Is A Game-Changing Substitute In Risotto

Risotto is pure classic Italian comfort food. The recipe seems simple, but the result is a rich, velvety, and creamy rice dish with a complex flavor. You can make risotto with just arborio rice, chicken stock, and cheese, or you can add ingredients such as chicken, shrimp, mushrooms, onions, peas, and truffles.

Most risotto is made with wine, for the deep and rich floral flavor. Most often, white wine is used because it will not change the color of the risotto. What you may not know is that many white wines have a vanilla undertone, thanks to aging in oak barrels, according to MasterClass.

Since not all of the alcohol cooks out of the wine during the time it takes to make risotto, per Food Network, many people may not want to use it. So if you are out of wine, or don't want to consume alcohol, try adding vanilla to your risotto instead.

All about vanilla

The vanilla extract you buy in the spice aisle in the store isn't the only type of vanilla. You can also buy vanilla paste, which is a concentrated form of the extract, or you can buy vanilla pods, long, slightly sticky sticks which contain little seeds with tons of flavor.

According to National Geographic, the vanilla plant is native to Central and South America and is also found in the Caribbean. When it was introduced in Europe, Queen Elizabeth I became a fan. And Thomas Jefferson started popularizing the vanilla flavor in ice cream.

The flavor and aroma of vanilla, according to the McCormick Science Institute, has been described as floral, similar to rum, like tobacco, floral and perfume-like, similar to dried fruits, and with a resinous note. Those same descriptors apply to many wine varieties, especially white wines, according to Italy's Finest Wines.

Vanilla pods aren't cheap, and really good vanilla extract can be expensive, going for about $47.00 per each 8-ounce bottle at Sonoma Syrup Co.. The folks at America's Test Kitchen recommend Nielsen-Massey Pure Vanilla Bean Paste, for $19.00 for a 4-ounce bottle. You can make your own vanilla extract, by immersing vanilla pods in vodka, per Sally's Baking Addiction.

Risotto and vanilla make a great combo

Now that you know vanilla is a great substitute for wine when making risotto, start planning your next meal. You'll need arborio rice, per MasterClass, which is short grain rice, since it has the proper starch combination for the creamiest result. Rinse your rice before you begin to eliminate surface starch. Gather the remaining ingredients you'll need.

If you aren't using wine, you'll need another liquid to substitute. Chicken or vegetable stock will work well, as will plain water. And remember that you will want to use the best vanilla extract or paste you can afford. Do not substitute artificial vanilla extract. Add about a teaspoon to your risotto and taste it; see what you think. You can add more if you'd like.

If you have your own favorite risotto recipe, give vanilla a try the next time you make it. Or try a new recipe like risotto Milanese, made with saffron and onions, or pumpkin risotto crunchy with pumpkin seeds and chopped pecans. Or really lean into the dessert angle and try strawberry risotto and don't forget to add the vanilla.