Does Vanilla Extract Go Bad?

Does vanilla extract go bad? Vanilla extract is commonly used in baking, but not everyone knows whether it goes bad or how long it can be stored and safely used. If you’d like to know whether you can use vanilla extract that is 5 years after the date printed on the bottle, or how long can you store vanilla extract before it should be discarded, this article will help you.

How to store vanilla extract

Storing vanilla extract is very easy and I’m quite sure everyone is doing it the right way already. It should be stored in a cool and dark area, although storing it in a cupboard in the kitchen is pretty popular and works just fine. The most important thing is to always keep the bottle sealed tightly when not in use.

What is the shelf life of vanilla extract?

Basically, pure vanilla extract doesn’t have an expiration date. Vanilla extract has an alcohol base so it doesn’t really go bad. You should, however, know that the alcohol will slowly evaporate (especially when the bottle was opened at least once), so as the years go by, the flavor of the vanilla extract might become more intense. That’s because there’s less alcohol in the liquid. All in all, if you’ve always kept the bottle of vanilla extract closed, it’ll last years, so you can freely use that bottle of vanilla extract you’ve bought 5 or 10 years ago.

A bottle of pure vanilla extract
Image used under Creative Commons from ginnerobot

Please note that there is an imitation of vanilla extract available on the market. It’s easy to distinguish them – pure vanilla extract has the word “Pure” placed somewhere on the label. Vanilla extract imitation has less flavor and doesn’t have as much alcohol as the pure extract, so it won’t keep that good. It shouldn’t go bad, but it’s recommended to use it within 2 to 4 years after buying. It loses its taste with time, so after a couple of years you probably won’t be satisfied with its quality.

How to tell if vanilla extract is bad

As I’ve mentioned earlier, if you’ll always keep the bottle of vanilla extract sealed tightly, it shouldn’t go bad. However, if it was stored for quite a few years (meaning more than 20) and some kind of bacteria have found its way into the bottle, it might be able to develop in there. I suggest you should simply take a look at the liquid, smell it and (if you’re not quite sure) taste it before using. In almost every case the liquid will be fine, sometimes maybe the aroma won’t be that intense. If something seems to be wrong with either appearance, smell or taste, discard it.

As you should know by now, pure vanilla extract doesn’t go bad and has an indefinite shelf life. Vanilla extract imitation, however, is suggested to be used within a couple of years, as it loses its flavor with time.