10 Best Substitutes For Cointreau

If you aren't already familiar with this specialty liqueur, Cointreau is a high-end brand of triple sec, which is basically an orange-flavored liqueur — in fact it pretty much invented the genre (via Vine Pair). According to the article, Cointreau dates back to the mid-19th century in France where it was developed by Edouard Cointreau, a distiller in the town of Angers. To this day, every bottle of authentic Cointreau sold worldwide originates from a single distillery — Carré Cointreau in Angers, France.

Before perfecting and marketing his namesake liqueur, Cointreau experimented with different blends of sweet, macerated, and bitter oranges to create what would become known as triple sec. Speculation abounds as to why he called the experimental blend triple sec, but one widely accepted theory suggests the name refers to three different oranges in early versions that were combined with a dry spirit — 'tripler' referring to triple in French and 'sec' translating to dry. According to the Cointreau website, others believe that triple sec references a blend that was three times more concentrated and substantially less sweet than other liqueurs of the era.

Either way, whether you're cooking or bartending and need a substitute for Cointreau, you'll want to look for something that will mimic the citrus notes it brings to food and cocktails. Here are 10 good bets.

1. Curaçao

A good substitute for Cointreau is Curaçao. Like Cointreau, it's an orange liqueur, and both incorporate oranges into the distilling process, according to Substitute Cooking. The difference, though, lies in what kinds of oranges are used, what kind of alcohol is used, and what additional ingredients go into the mix. Senior & Co. says Curaçao likely originated in the 17th century when Dutch explorers returned home with Laraha oranges, a variety that at the time was specific to the Caribbean island of the same name. However, Curaçao liqueur is not a protected appellation, which means it can be produced anywhere in the world and does not necessarily have to develop from a base of Laraha oranges, according to Serious Eats

Due to its sweet taste, Curaçao is a popular flavoring in cakes and desserts like crème brûlée. It's also a good swap for Cointreau in dishes like Key Ingredient's Cointreau-Glazed Chicken Wings. A word of caution: Unless you want your dish to take on a blue tone, stick with clear Curaçao. Leave Blue Curaçao for creating festive cocktails instead.

2. Grand Marnier

It may cost a bit more than Cointreau, but Grand Marnier is a good substitute for the former spirit. According to Substitute Cooking, Grand Marnier works in a pinch because, like Cointreau, it's orange forward with a hint of vanilla. Unlike Cointreau, which is a liqueur, however, Grand Marnier is a brandy. To casual observers, the difference is minimal. It's all in the process of making it. 

According to Serious Eats, brandy is a distilled spirit (like rum and whiskey) whereas liqueur is a distilled spirit with added flavors and sweeteners. As a rule of thumb, liqueurs usually (but not always) have a lower alcohol content than distilled spirits, averaging 30 proof versus 110 proof. A Bar Above describes Grand Marnier as sweeter and heavier than Cointreau whereas the latter has a clean, orange flavor. If you choose to substitute Grand Marnier for Cointreau, keep that flavor profile in the back of your mind and adjust accordingly in your food or cocktail recipe.

3. Luxardo Triplum

Luxardo Triplum. It's a mouthful. And not nearly as commonly known as its lemon-flavored cousin, Limoncello, but the Italian liqueur is a good choice to replace Cointreau in foods and beverages, according to Food Shark Marfa. It's a classic triple sec distilled by Luxuardo (also famed for its candied maraschino cherries), and Luxardo Triplum's flavor is based on a combination of mandarins and oranges, including a variety from Curacao in the Dutch Antilles. 

A blend of dried flora (orange flowers, pennyroyal, and vervain, among others) and sugar adds depth and sweetness to the orange flavor. Substitute Cooking says the final product is slightly drier than Cointreau, but it can still make a good substitute. Enrichen the Kitchen adds that Luxardo Triplum works well as a replacement for Cointreau in everything from cocktails to crepes Suzette, while noting that its flavor has subtle floral undertones with a hint of cardamom. To get the best match in the final product, always taste test and adjust accordingly.

4. Combier Liqueur D'Orange

Cointreau may be widely acknowledged as the original triple sec, but another French liqueur, Combier Liqueur D'Orange, wants to give it a run for its money. According to Drink Spirits, Combier Liqueur D'Orange was first developed in 1834 in Samur, France and it aims to challenge Cointreau's hold on the title. Both may be orange liqueurs and both result from a blend of bitter and sweet orange peels, but Drink Spirits says the two boast noticeably different flavor profiles. 

Like Cointreau, Combier Liqueur D'Orange is a clear spirit. When it comes to flavor, however, Combier Liqueur D'Orange has a lighter, maybe more bitter, orange undertone. On the flip side, Drinker Hacker says it's also slightly sweeter than Cointreau, but that article acknowledges the two are basically interchangeable in cocktails. For cooking, though, it depends on the goal and preparation. Taste them both, then decide which is a better complement in the dish — based on if you want it sweet or bitter.

5. Bols

While it may not satisfy the most discerning connoisseurs of orange liqueur, Serious Eats tags Dutch-brand Bols triple sec as a decent pinch hitter for Cointreau. On the plus side, it's clear, like Cointreau, so you won't have to worry about it inadvertently affecting the color of your beverage or culinary creation. It's also sweet. Maybe too sweet for some adaptations. And the nose is definitely not subtle — it is full-on intense orange. 

That said, Serious Eats says Bols triple sec tastes pretty good, with hints of warm spice, while Substitute Cooking calls out cinnamon and cloves. Liquor.com says the relatively inexpensive liqueur holds up well in cocktails — like the Cosmopolitan — that allow its notes of orange, grapefruit, and honey to shine. While it misses the subtlety most of us prefer in a standalone liqueur, Bols fits the bill when it's used as a flavoring for desserts, glazes, and marinades.

6. Orange extract

In a pinch, orange extract works as a substitute for Cointreau, too. And you'll save a bit of money this way. Although, ounce-for-ounce, orange extract can be more expensive than Cointreau, you'll be able to purchase a 2-ounce bottle for less than $4 (via McCormick) compared to $36 for a 750-ml bottle of Cointreau (via Luxe) — which is great especially if you need just a little in a cooking recipe. If you can find it, a mini-bottle of Cointreau, sometimes called a nip, retails for about $3 for 50 ml, according to Bitters & Bottles

When replacing Cointreau with orange extract, McCormick advises substituting 1 teaspoon of extract for 1 tablespoon of liqueur. To more precisely match the flavor profile, Substitute Cooking suggests experimenting with spices by adding a touch of cinnamon or a dash of nutmeg — just be sure to taste test to get the right balance. Or just stick with pure orange extract on its own — Substitute Cooking says it packs plenty of orange essence and just enough sweetness without any complicated adjustments.

Even better, this is a great substitute for those that can't or don't want any alcohol — like trying to get that perfect orange flavoring in a child's birthday cake.

7. Orange juice

Answers to All says orange juice works well as a replacement for Cointreau — and, like orange extract, it's another good alcohol-free option. It may take a bit of experimenting to get the flavor profile you're seeking, though. Other alcohol-free options, according to Answers to All, include orange juice concentrate, orange flower water, and orange oil. If you opt to substitute orange juice for Cointreau, Foods Guy says it's a good idea to reduce it to a syrup before adding it to your recipe. The reduction condenses the flavor, making it a better match for Cointreau. 

If you're baking, Supper for a Steal suggests substituting orange juice mixed with a bit of orange zest. Word of caution: It can be difficult to get the right balance, so experiment with a few combinations on the side before adding the blend to your recipe in progress. Also, when zesting, be careful not to catch any of the white pith. It's bitter enough that it will throw your whole recipe out of whack.

8. Orange-flavored liqueur

Some chefs insist on using top-shelf wine and liquor in cooking, but in many cases, there are less expensive, and perfectly acceptable, alternatives. In the case of Cointreau, Substitute Cooking suggests looking for locally produced citrus-flavored brandies and liqueurs to avoid import taxes. If that doesn't pan out, ask your local liquor store for advice. If you tell them how you're planning to use the liqueur, they're likely to have a few cost-saving suggestions. 

At the lower end of the price scale, Hiram Walker Triple Sec costs about $10 for a 750-ml bottle. Substitute Cooking points out it has a lower alcohol content — 30 proof (via Distiller) versus 40 proof for Cointreau (per A Couple Cooks) — but also cautions it is sweeter than Cointreau. The Kitchn suggests Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao (about $28 for a 750-ml bottle) as another good, lower-priced substitute for Cointreau. Produced in France at Maison Ferrand, Pierre Ferrand Dry Orange Curaçao starts fresh and finishes warm, spicy, nutty, and mildly bittersweet (via The Kitchn). Substitute Cooking describes it as bitter orange presenting a hint of nutmeg, vanilla, and clove.

9. Orange-flavored vodka

Weighing in with a response to a question posted on Quora, Cocktails For Mums says substituting orange-flavored vodka for orange-flavored liqueur is tricky business, but it can be done. While the Q&A specifically addressed cocktails, the same kind of fix could apply to food recipes. The primary difference between the two options is the level of sweetness — a liqueur is significantly sweeter than vodka, even a citrus-infused vodka. If you're up to the challenge, experiment with combinations of orange vodka and sugar. If it's too alcohol-forward, try adding a few drops of lemon juice to balance the mix out.

If you go this route, it's probably a good idea to know your vodkas first. Food for Net's list of Best Orange Vodka starts with Effen Blood Orange Vodka, a brand from The Netherlands described as having bright notes of fresh orange juice punctuated by hints of vanilla with a touch of peppery heat. Rounding out its top five, Food for Net lists Ketel One Oranje, Absolut Mandrin, Smirnoff Orange, and Grey Goose L'Orange.

10. Patrón Citrónge

Another worthy substitute for Cointreau is Patrón Citrónge. At 80 proof, it packs a punch. Organic Jamaican and bittersweet Haitian oranges give the neutral-grain spirit its citrus-forward flavor. Patrón describes Citrónge as a clear, delicately blended liqueur with a sweet and bitter orange aroma and a fresh, sweet orange taste. While Patrón is known for its tequila, Patrón Citrónge — like Cointreau — is a triple sec (via AskingLot). 

Produced in Mexico, a 750-ml bottle retails for about $24 (via Drizly). On Difford's Guide, the outlet describes Patrón Citrónge as a crystal-clear liqueur with notes of tangerine, navel orange, lemon, white pepper, and a hint of tequila. Wine Enthusiast points to an assertive agave note, a deliberate move by Patrón because Citrónge was created to complement tequila-based cocktail blends. Keep that in mind, and adjust accordingly, if you're using it as a replacement for Cointreau in a recipe.