Cointreau is an excellent drink choice for any time and any place, but sometimes, the price tag is worth worrying about. That’s why a Cointreau liqueur substitute is the way to go.

Let’s say you want to make a margarita for 3 people but you have no bottle of Cointreau lying around—buying a 750 ml bottle for about 40 dollars doesn’t always come easy. If you are a college student, then this reality shouldn’t be surprising. With Cointreau substitutes, you don’t have to bother so much about how expensive it is anymore.

On the other hand, it could be that you can’t get a bottle of Cointreau right now and you desperately need it, either to make a cocktail or for some dessert recipe. Really, your reasons for wanting a substitute could be as diverse as the list of substitutes available for you.

The smooth, crispy, orange-flavored liqueur is always a good idea—it’s a classic high-end drink made by the one-and-only Remy Cointreau. It’s all about the high-end quality when it comes to this drink, always.

Is Cointreau A Triple Sec Or A Curaçao?

Cointreau was originally called Curaçao Blanco Triple Sec. So I believe you now understand why a few people think it’s a Curaçao. The very first time the drink was introduced, the term “Curaçao” was added as a prefix, though the reasons for that aren’t very clear.

However, the name was later changed to Cointreau Triple sec and eventually just Cointreau because other distilleries came up with their own triple sec varieties. At that point, the mild confusion ended. Some people even think it was a marketing strategy.

What do you think?

As a liqueur, the drink is primarily flavored with orange. The Cointreau flavor is perfectly balanced between bitterness and sweetness—a quality you should watch out for in its substitutes. The drink is a triple sec drink and no, that doesn’t mean it underwent triple distillation. As a matter of fact, the method of producing Cointreau is not known; it is regarded and treated as a family secret.

You’ve definitely heard of Curaçao and all its types, from blue Curaçao to the traditional Curaçao which is colorless. Curaçao was first made on the island of Curaçao, from a pot-stilled brandy with the dried peels of Curaçao oranges serving as a flavoring. The dried orange peels brought flavor and aroma to the drink. The drink became very popular, and as the story goes, a lot of versions sprouted.

These different versions of Curaçao are not produced with the same ingredients nor with the same method of production. Their flavor profiles vary considerably depending on the brand, varieties, and quality.

Curaçao was originally a rum-based drink, however, newer Curaçao drinks do not necessarily have rum as their base. The thing about substituting Cointreau with Curaçao is that if you aren’t careful, you might end up with a cheap imitation of traditional Curaçao.

Triple Sec, on the other hand, is less sweet than Curaçao. It originated from France and no one is exactly sure why it is named triple sec. While some people think it is just a way to market the product in a more appealing or superior manner, others think it is because the product is made to undergo distillation three times. It is a drier liqueur than Curaçao that is also flavored with orange.

Thus, both the Curaçao and Triple Sec liqueurs are orange-flavored, hence it is no surprise that Curaçao can be sometimes used as a substitute for Cointreau liqueur. Remember, Cointreau is not a Curaçao liqueur, but a triple sec liqueur. For a substitute that provides a complex feel alongside a fruity, sweet, or bitter flavor, orange liqueurs are a good alternative.

Perhaps the most annoying thing about both Curaçao and triple sec is that once a while, you might run into a brand that bears exactly the same name. That doesn’t mean it’s of better quality or that it’s the more “original” version. Take note.

Cointreau Liqueur And Its Uses

Cointreau is a top-shelf orange-flavored alcoholic beverage from Saint-Barthélemy-d’Anjou in France. The liqueur was first introduced in 1875 and it is 40 percent alcohol by volume (proofed at 80 in the US). Cointreau is a colorless (clear) alcoholic beverage with an orange flavor, well balanced between sweet and bitter. Another great thing about this bottle of liqueur is its relatively long shelf life—it can last for 3 years if properly stored.

It has a subtle orange, spicy aroma and leaves a hint of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and of course, orange. It’s made useful in several mixed drinks such as the Margarita and cosmopolitan, for which it also features in the IBA (International Bartenders Association) cosmopolitan and margarita standard recipes.

Cointreau is also used in cooking and makes for a great sipper, too.

It can either be consumed neat or on the rocks, as well as before and after a meal (since it’s an apéritif and also a digestif). The first bottles of Cointreau were manufactured by the Cointreau brothers in 1875, however, in 1990, the Cointreau brothers merged with Rémy Martin to form the Rémy Cointreau company.

The Cointreau liqueur flavor is gotten from a blend of sweet and bitter orange, whose balanced flavor is complemented by an equally perfect blend of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. The spices are considered complementary since they do not overwhelm the orange flavor, nor alter it either.

As an orange liqueur, its use is versatile and includes being used in cocktails, cooking dishes like crêpes suzette, cakes, mousses, cheesecakes, and even marinades. Its flavor profile makes for a great addition to dishes like pot de crème, crème anglaise, or chocolate mousse.

It can be easily substituted with other orange-flavored liqueurs and even with non-alcoholic beverages, but of course, it depends on what you’re replacing it with. A Cointreau replacement perfect for a margarita might not make an excellent alternative when it comes to baked goods.

Substitutes for Cointreau

Margaritas are not the only thing we use Cointreau for. If it was, I doubt anyone would be earnestly looking for a replacement for it. Cointreau alternatives are important not only for substituting in our margarita recipes but also for use in cooking and other cocktail recipes.

Apart from those substitutes listed already, there are a whole lot more. There are even non-alcoholic substitutes available for you. Orange flavored liqueurs like Cointreau typically have a richer, sweeter, and more intense flavor that comes in handy for drinks (cocktails), sauces, marinades, and baked goods like desserts.

The French dessert crêpes suzette, for example, sometimes calls for Cointreau as an ingredient. However, Grand Marnier can fill in as a great substitute. Grand Marnier also works well for another French dessert known as bûche de Noël. But generally, it wouldn’t work well as a substitute for cooking.


Because it is a brandy-based liqueur whose rich brandy flavor can mask and/or change the original flavor of your dish. Baked goods that have flavors such as orange, vanilla, and chocolate can have a little bit of Cointreau in them. When needing a substitute for this, an orange-flavored liqueur like triple sec will work just fine.

Using triple sec will prevent your dish’s flavor profile from being altered. However, if you wish to slightly alter the flavor profile, experiment with Grand Marnier and other orange-flavored liqueurs to find the flavor you like best.

Also, wanting to replace the liqueur entirely for a non-liqueur option is perfectly fine. To get rid of the alcohol in your recipe—in this case, Cointreau—you can use orange-flavored non-alcoholic drinks. This could be orange juice, orange juice concentrate, orange flower water, non-alcoholic triple sec, orange extract (a bitter alternative), and the rarely used non-alcoholic substitute, orange oil.

The most common and preferred of these non-alcoholic alternatives are orange juice, orange juice concentrate, orange juice extract, and the non-alcoholic triple sec drinks. You could also try other orange-flavored drinks that are free of alcohol. When using any of these liquids, use more than the amount of Cointreau required in the recipe. This is done because though sweeter at times, these substitutes have a less intense flavor than Cointreau.

Substitutes for Cointreau in Margarita

Margarita, the cocktail once crowned as the most popular cocktail in America, is a classic drink. The traditional and standard recipe for Margarita recognizes Cointreau as the preferred choice of triple sec. Margaritas, while having their own standard serving ware, can be served in any glass you’ve got. The drink is usually served on the rocks, however, it can also be drunk straight up or blended with ice (a frozen margarita).

To make a margarita, you will need just 3 basic ingredients: tequila, Cointreau and fresh lime juice. But in the case of you having no Cointreau triple sec around, what then should you do—make another drink, or find a substitute? If you chose a substitute, then these are the best options to explore below:

Grand Marnier

As a substitute in margaritas, some people will pass on Grand Marnier, but then, this is perhaps the most popular Cointreau alternative known. In essence, Grand Marnier has great name recognition. Moreover, when it is used as a substitute in a margarita, the cocktail is usually referred to as a Cadillac margarita.

Just like Cointreau, its flavors are beautifully balanced.

The drink is considered a Curaçao, but not the traditional version since it is a blend of cognac and triple sec. It is not regarded as a triple sec liqueur because unlike triple sec, it does not have a neutral spirit as a base—it is brandy-based.

The drink was first made in France and is 40 percent alcohol by volume (ABV), meaning it’s proofed at 80 and thus just as strong as Cointreau. It is not a clear Curaçao drink, and it hits the nose with an aroma of brandy (it’s made with a high quantity of brandy) and orange. It can be enjoyed neat as a standalone drink after a meal (as a digestif), or in mixed drinks like the margarita.

It is made from a mix of pot-stilled cognac, spice, sugar, and distilled bitter orange essence. The drink was introduced in 1880 as an amber-gold-colored drink. It’s a dry drink like Cointreau which leaves a hint of brandy, bitter orange, spice, and aged wood when drunk. Due to the high quantity of brandy that it’s made from, it is advisable you substitute it into your recipe in very small quantities.

Otherwise, the brandy flavor will completely mask the flavor of the orange, so if you’re using it as a mixer in your Margarita recipe, be cautious. Grand Marnier is a high-end drink, hence, it’s just as expensive as Cointreau. Hoping to get a cheaper alternative? Then Grand Marnier is not for you.

Combier Liqueur d’Orange

Also known as Combier orange liqueur. It’s proofed at 80 and that’s about 40 percent alcohol by volume. It is a triple sec liqueur that’s also flavored with orange and has a clear color. The bitter orange flavor is toned down which makes it more sweet than bitter, or balanced.

It is also less dry when compared to Cointreau, however, when used as a mixer to substitute for Cointreau liqueur, the difference is not felt. The Combier Liqueur d’Orange is a less expensive alternative—about 10 dollars less. It’s a good choice for your margarita; you’ll hardly notice the difference in taste. Well, unless you’re sipping it straight-up.

Senior Curaçao of Curaçao

As the name goes, this is a dry Curaçao-styled liqueur that stands proofed at 62. It is made by the senior family in Curaçao, the birthplace of the drink. Coloring is added to the drink to make it orange in appearance.

The family also produces one of the finest blue Curaçaos there is on the market, which is a finer alternative to the orange-colored Curaçao typically used in a margarita. When blue Curaçao is used as a mixer for a margarita, it is usually referred to as a blue Margarita. It is a much cheaper alternative to go with, and the flavors are fairly balanced—it isn’t overly sweet or bitter.

Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao

This golden brown, dry, French curaçao is proofed at 80 and is a perfect blend of flavors, from the bitter orange, vanilla, and spices such as nutmeg and clove. Pierre Ferrand dry Curaçao is considered by some people to be a better alternative compared to Grand Marnier. A taste test can confirm whether that is correct or not.

As a mixer—especially in drinks like the margarita and cosmopolitan—this French dry Curaçao is an excellent choice, and it’s also less expensive than Cointreau. You can enjoy this drink straight up.


It would have been easy to leave out this bottom-shelf drink, but that would have been totally unfair to you. It’s a triple sec drink that’s proofed at 30 with a clear appearance, and though you might like the orange smell, you’ll definitely prefer this as a mixer.

Bols isn’t what you might expect from a bottom shelf drink. Notes of warm spices like cinnamon and clove enhance its intense orange flavor. It is as cheap as 10 dollars for a liter, so it’s a great way of reducing your alcohol cost if you’re throwing a party. Besides, it’s a good mixer. But for a margarita, I really wouldn’t recommend it.

These are just a few Cointreau liqueur substitutes. There are others I didn’t include, such as Meaghers triple sec and Luxardo Triplum, amidst others.


If you’re not so sure about which substitutes to use, it’s best that you experiment with the options available for you in small quantities. The ones you like can then go on to feature at your parties, or in your cooking.

Remember, a substitute considered by the majority to be too sweet might not be too sweet for you. This is why doing your own little experiment is necessary! And don’t forget that a margarita is a cocktail, and as such, you don’t have to go for the high-end substitutes only.

If you feel like replacing the Cointreau in a recipe you’ve got, then you should do just that. But before you make the big bold move, a little experiment wouldn’t hurt. As a matter of fact, tasting all of these Cointreau substitutes will prepare you for any drastic change to the recipe’s original flavor profile. It’s time you try some of these substitutes and have a little fun!


Peter's path through the culinary world has taken a number of unexpected turns. After starting out as a waiter at the age of 16, he was inspired to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade. As he delved deeper, however, his career took a sudden turn when a family friend needed someone to help manage his business. Peter now scratches his culinary itch on the internet by blogging, sharing recipes, and socializing with food enthusiasts worldwide.

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