Cointreau is just one of those special ingredients that adds a certain decadence to whatever it comes into contact with. Whether it’s cocktails with friends on a Saturday evening, or baked into a cheesecake, it just screams class and refinement and is just dangerously moreish. However, its delectable nature is the precise reason why finding a substitute is so necessary – it’s just so hard to keep it stocked!
For those who aren’t overly familiar with Cointreau, let us just explain for a second what it is that makes it such a unique and sought after liqueur. Cointreau is an orange-flavoured drink which is made from the peels of both bitter and sweet oranges along with sugar beet alcohol. It is versatile in that it tastes equally as good in a cheesecake as it does in a decadent duck sauce.
A Complete Guide to Substituting for Cointreau
Naturally, substituting for such a unique ingredient is a tough ask, and not every substitute listed will work in every case. You will find that many of them can’t be enjoyed as an aperitif either! So, in terms of substituting for Cointreau, we have decided to present a broad list of replacements, each with their own particular strengths. Some will be best used in cocktails and desserts, others will be more at home for sipping and savoury uses. So, without further ado, here is our rundown of the best substitutes for Cointreau that money can buy!
1. Orange Curacao
Curacao, named after the island from which it originated, is likely to be the first orange liqueur ever made. It is made from a particularly bitter orange, which is no good for eating, and a local spirit which gives it its distinct taste. The alcohol content of Curacao can range from anywhere between 20 to 40%, with the stronger varieties being much preferable as a substitute.
These days, Curacao can be picked up relatively cheaply and easily, which makes it a good substitute in many regards – but there are some key differences to note. Though Curacao can be substituted for Cointreau in nearly any recipe you can think of, the result will be slightly different. This is due to the fact that Orange Curacao is naturally a bit sweeter than Cointreau. Overall, not a bad option regardless, and one that can be found anywhere that stocks a decent range of liqueurs.
- Generally much cheaper than Cointreau
- An excellent substitute for baking
- Makes a nice cocktail
- Sweeter than Cointreau
2. Orange Extract
Orange extract is without a doubt the best non-liqueur substitute for Cointreau when it comes to baking. Unlike orange oil, it won’t add any unwanted extra oil to your recipe, and contrary to orange zest, it is much easier to match the Cointreau for tanginess. It is commonly called for in several recipes, including hard candies, fudge, chocolates, cheesecake, and cookies and biscotti. As such, it is a no brainer replacement for Cointreau in many ways.
Another great strength of this substitute is that if you don’t already have it to hand, it is readily available at the local store or supermarket for a comparatively cheap price. We’ve found that it also has its uses outside of baking. For example, it tastes great in certain teas, in cocoa, and will even fill in for Cointreau in a duck sauce at a push! All in all, this is the substitute you want to be reaching for if it just so happens to be in your home. If you don’t, we would recommend this particular brand for its powerful flavour:
- Can do pretty much anything that Cointreau can (but maybe don’t sip it!)
- Excellent for all baked goods
- Cheap and accessible compared to many other substitutions
- Easy to make at home by yourself
- Lacks a bit of the booziness of the Cointreau
3. Grand Marnier
Used in several regions of France along with sugar to create wonderfully delicious crepes, Grand Marnier has quite a bit of punch in the flavour department. Where it differs most from Cointreau is that the base alcohol is not sugar beet-based, it’s brandy. Added to the fact that the zest used to make Grand Marnier comes from a specific and bitter type of orange, the flavour is quite distinctive in its zesty and oaky robustness.
In the case of baking and cocktail making, most are unlikely to notice too much of a difference in flavour. In this sense, it is a good substitute that hits many of the same marks. It can also be enjoyed by itself as a delectable tipple. So, simply remember that the Grand Marnier flavour will be more to the fore of the palette when used in a cocktail, but for baking you can’t go too far wrong. In terms of choosing which version to buy, we would always recommend investing in the original rather than opting for a generic brand. This can be found pretty much anywhere that stocks a good range of spirits/liqueurs.
- Great oaky flavour
- Excellent substitute for baking
- Can be enjoyed in a wide variety of cocktails
- More powerful flavour than Cointreau when used in cocktails
- Not exactly cheap
4. Orange Zest
Next up is our suggestion for the cheap and cheerful substitute. Admittedly, the main reason that orange zest makes this list is not for its versatility – instead we have included it because it’s just so much more readily available than anything else. The chances are that you have some oranges lying around right now.
However, using orange zest won’t work efficiently in every event. We thus recommend using it in unison with some orange juice while baking. It can be hard to strike the balance right and to achieve the right tang and zestiness but give it some experimentation and desirable results can be achieved. As an extra advisory, when zesting your oranges makes sure to avoid getting any of the pith as much as possible. This can generate an entirely unpleasant and bitter flavour and ruin the whole recipe.
- Available pretty much anywhere, possibly even within your own home
- Used in unison with some orange juice, it can generate a lovely fresh and tangy effect
- Brilliant for those who don’t want to fork out for an expensive liqueur
- More difficult to get right
- Doesn’t quite have the range of Cointreau
We hope that you found this guide to substituting for Cointreau to be a valuable and information source as you embarked on a quest for an alternative option. As you can see, there are several decent substitutes out there – one or more of which may already be lurking in your kitchen as you read this!
We invite you to review the following questions and answers section for some additional information that just might be of some use to you.
Is there any alcohol free Cointreau?
Unfortunately, nothing that has a zero alcohol content tastes quite like the real deal. However, if it is the case that you are worried about adding alcohol content to your baking, don’t be. Alcohol evaporates from the recipe during baking leaving your recipe totally devoid of any alcohol content and safe for consumption by kids.
Can I use Cointreau Noir?
If you are fortunate enough to have this at your disposal, you can of course use it. However, due to its price and rather exotic nature, we would recommend saving this particular option for use as an aperitif.