What Are Good Non-Alcoholic Substitutes For Kahlua Rum In Tiramisu?

What Is Tiramisu?

Tiramisu is a traditional Italian dessert that consists of ladyfingers dipped into coffee, layered with mascarpone cheese and dark chocolate, then topped with shaved chocolate.

Where Does Tiramisu Come From?

Jonathan Coe, in an attempt to add some contemporary flair to his book Expo 58, sends his protagonist to a trattoria in Soho for lasagna, Chianti, a bowl of creamy, and coffee-spiked tiramisu – a classic Italian dessert that was the height of fashion in post-war London.

The Tiramisù dessert is allegedly much older, dating back to a Treviso madam who created it as an aphrodisiac for her male clients – “a Viagra from the 19th century,” according to food historians. Although this theory isn’t taken very seriously by culinary historians, it may explain why the name means “pick-me-up” or “cheer me up.”

The question of whether or not this story is even remotely true may be summarily dismissed, compared to the most important issue. According to Veneto, the northeastern section that considers Venice its capital, it first shone in the early 1970s at Le Beccherie, a Treviso restaurant. It was inspired by a tonic given to expectant mothers.

However, in the mountainous region of Friuli Venezia Giulia that borders Austria and Slovenia, they claim to have arrived first with a handwritten recipe for tiramisu dating from 1959 as proof. (There’s another version in the area that uses whipped cream rather than mascarpone, so we can safely eliminate it.)

Norma Pielli, the owner and chef of the Albergo Roma hotel in Tolmezzo’s Alpine town, is the author of the Friuli recipe. According to locals, she served the dish, known as a ‘mascarpone slice’ at first, to hungry trekkers — one of whom gave it its name today.

Following the discovery (and subsequent publication in 2016) of Pielli’s recipe, the Italian government decided that Le Beccherie no longer represented the birthplace of tiramisu. Tiramisu was officially designated a traditional agricultural product (approved, traditional regional specialty) in Friuli in 2017, to the outrage of the Venetians, who have been fighting a long civil war to lay claim to the dessert.

In ‘Exporting the Tiramisu’ from The New York Times, Nina Siegal claims that Rosa and Carla Scarpato of Panorama magazine have also claimed the tiramisu was created in their family’s bakery in Mogliano Veneto, near Trevis.

Why Is Tiramisu Popular Today?

The annual Tiramisù World Cup for amateur chefs, which is still held in Veneto, features two categories: ‘original recipe’ and ‘creative recipe.’ Entries in the first must use only Savoiardi (a drier, crumblier variation of ladyfingers or boudoir biscuits), mascarpone, eggs, coffee, cocoa powder. Because no alcohol appears in either of the recipes attributed to the original, it is not allowed because this list does not ‘admit any variation,’ according to the official website. 

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These six items are one of the few things on which both sides may agree, but in the richer Le Beccherie version, egg yolks are used alone, beaten into sweetened mascarpone, whereas the lighter, frothier Albergo Roma version incorporates whipped whites.

Both use similar cream and coffee ingredients, but one adds layers of Savoiardi soaked in coffee between the creamy mixture and the chocolate dusting, while the other dips it in espresso.

At this point, both tiramisu recipes are finished by covering them with a light sprinkling of cocoa powder.

Both include similar cream and coffee components, however, one version uses layers of ladyfingers soaked in coffee between the creamy mixture and chocolate dusting, while the other version has dipped it in espresso. This notoriety has led to the rise in popularity of the delicious dessert.

‘Popular’ may well be an understatement. The New York Times devoted a half-page to the ‘newest’ Italian dessert in city restaurants in 1985, estimating that there were over 200 variations, according to one authoritative source. And where New York leads, the rest of the Western world follows. Although it’s unclear

Diego (who, by the way, resides in the Treviso camp when it comes to tiramisu origins) is particularly taken with Giorgio Locatelli’s spin on the dessert. Because a genuine tiramisu at the end of a meal is “a killer—very heavy to digest,” according to an Italian chef.

At Soho’s Chin Chin Dessert Club, Lawson blends coffee and Irish cream together in one recipe, while another uses hazelnut liqueur and toasted hazelnuts. The dish has been transformed into an ice cream sundae at the Soho-based Dessert Club, complete with an espresso chaser.

There’s also room for some individuality in Italy. The Tiramisù World Cup’s “creative recipe” category, which permits the use of three components in addition to mascarpone, eggs, coffee, and cocoa, was taken home by a rather straightforward variation including cinnamon and ginger last year. However, more daring entries have included pineapple, of all things!

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The Confraternità del Tiramisù (‘Brotherhood of Tiramisu’) in Treviso is opposed to the increased creative license. It represents 50 members in Veneto and has no tolerance for anyone attempting to change the established recipe. “We have to protect our identity,” a Brotherhood spokesperson explained in 2017. “

You can see their point; a classic tiramisu is a work of art (you may now discover excellent variations all the way from Alaska to Australia), but the more people that get to enjoy this delicious, creamy dessert, the better – whether it’s the original or a different interpretation.

What Is Kahlua?

Kahlua is a brand of coffee liqueur that was made by Nestlé’s Mexico subsidiary. The company has now been bought over by the Femsa group, which now owns all Kahlua brands.

Kahlua is primarily made in Mexico.  It is also produced in the United States by both Beam Global Spirits & Wine Inc. (formerly Fortune Brands) and Diageo, which bought it from Pernod Ricard in 2002.

What are good non-alcoholic substitutes for Kahlua rum in a tiramisu?

Some possible substitutes are coffee extract, vanilla extract, sweetened condensed milk, chocolate syrup, or instant espresso.

Coffee Extract

Coffee extract is a good substitute for Kahlua in a tiramisu recipe. Coffee extract provides the same flavor and aroma as Kahlua, but without alcohol.

Coffee Extract also has fewer calories than Kahlua, which makes it an appropriate choice for dieters or people who need to limit their sugar intake. The coffee flavor of coffee extract will not overpower that of other ingredients in a recipe like Kahlua might do.

And because the coffee extract is water-based instead of alcohol-based, recipes featuring this ingredient tend to have less fat and cholesterol than those made with Kahlua. Finally, because it’s water-based rather than alcohol-based, you can make substitutions in your favorite cocktail or dessert recipes without altering any measurements.

Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is a good substitute for Kahlua in a tiramisu recipe. Vanilla extract provides the same flavor and aroma as Kahlua, but without alcohol.

Vanilla Extract also has fewer calories than Kahlua, which makes it an appropriate choice for dieters or people who need to limit their sugar intake.

The coffee flavor of vanilla extract will not overpower that of other ingredients in a recipe like Kahlua might do. Because the vanilla extract is water-based rather than an alcoholic, recipes that include it tend to be lower in fat and sugar than those made with Kahlua.

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Sweet Condensed Milk

What if you want to make a tiramisu but don’t happen to have Kahlua on hand?

No problem. You can use sweetened condensed milk instead of the coffee-flavored liqueur in most recipes, and it will work just as well.

The difference is that condensed milk is sweeter than Kahlua, so you’ll need less sugar in your recipe.  Also, because of its sweetness, some people might prefer sweetened condensed milk with chocolate cake or other desserts made with chocolate rather than coffee-flavored desserts like tiramisu or mocha cheesecake.

Chocolate Syrup

Chocolate syrup is a good substitute for Kahlua in a tiramisu recipe. Kahlua can be replaced with any kind of liqueur, and the taste will still be pretty similar because it’s not very strong.

Chocolate syrup is a delicious substitute that is not filled with alcohol or caffeine, making it child-appropriate. It also makes it a good substitute for anyone with alcohol and caffeine sensitivities.

Instant Coffee

But what about coffee? Well, you could use instant coffee granules or espresso powder to replace the liquid black coffee. Either one would work just as well as brewed coffee, and they’re much easier to find at grocery stores than brewed coffee beans, which might need to be ordered online or found at specialty shops.


If you want to make Tiramisu and don’t happen to have Kahlua on hand, coffee extract is an excellent substitute. The difference with this ingredient is that it’s sweeter than Kahlua, so you’ll need less sugar in the recipe; also because of its sweetness some people might prefer sweetened condensed milk or chocolate syrup with desserts made with chocolate rather than those made with coffee as the primary flavor such as tiramisu.

In addition, if your customer or guest has any sensitivities around alcohol or caffeine, then instant decaf espresso would be a perfect substitute for brewed black coffee. Whatever substitutions you choose, just remember they must work well taste-wise and texture-wise when mixed into a recipe like Tiramisu, which typically features whipped cream topping.

Did you try any of these substitutes?

Let us know in the comments below!