Does Vinegar Go Bad?

Every adult has this “why do we have four opened bottles of vinegar?” moment probably every couple of years. That’s when we wonder: does vinegar go bad?

Sometimes it’s during spring cleaning that you notice that’s a bottle of apple cider vinegar on the bottom shelf, two bottles of balsamic on the middle shelf, and you keep the leftovers on the top.

Other times you organize a cabinet in the kitchen because you can’t find products that you put there a few days ago anymore. In such times we usually find out that we still have some leftovers of kitchen staples such as vinegar.

So if you’ve got a few half-open bottles of this acidic condiment, you probably started to think how long does it last. Or how to tell if it has gone bad. Or if those slimy jelly-like discs at the bottom of the bottle mean the liquid is spoiled.

White vinegar in a glass carafe
White vinegar in a glass carafe

Either way, in this article you can find answers to any of those questions, and then some. We go through storage, shelf life, and going bad of vinegar in general. And even though there are quite a few variations of the condiment out there, the general rules apply to all of them just the same.

If learning more about these topics sounds interesting to you, read on.

How To Store Vinegar

Vinegar is a shelf-stable food additive. You should store it in a cool and dark environment, away from heat sources. The pantry is probably the best place for an unopened bottle of vinegar, while a dark cupboard in the kitchen is the perfect spot for an opened bottle.

When it comes to an opened bottle, remember to keep it sealed tightly when not in use. That’s about it when it comes to storage guidelines

Info

Vinegar doesn’t require refrigeration or any other special treatment, no matter if it’s opened or not.

Apple cider vinegar and fresh apples
Apple cider vinegar and fresh apples

One important thing about vinegar you should know about is the so-called mother” of vinegar. The mother is a natural byproduct of making vinegar.

Some vinegars are sold with the mother in, and they are usually labeled as unfiltered or simply “with mother.” But most of them are filtered or pasteurized. Both processes get rid of the mother and leave a clear liquid that’s ready to use for your salad dressings.

If a filtered vinegar is opened for a prolonged period (think years), the mother may begin to form on its own. And that’s a perfectly natural and safe process.

If you see an opened bottle of vinegar for the first time after a few years of opening, and notice some sediment forming on top, or slimy disc or discs on the bottom, don’t freak out. It’s the mother forming, and your vinegar is still perfectly okay.

Tip

If the mother grosses you out, you can always filter it out using a fine mesh strainer or coffee filters, and you’re good to go.

Apple Cider Vinegar
Image used under Creative Commons from Mike Mozart

How Long Does Vinegar Last

You got to this point to find out if vinegar lasts indefinitely, right? There isn’t a good answer to this question. What’s sure it that vinegar has a really long shelf life, and if you store it properly, it won’t ever go bad.

But over time, it might lose some of its taste and smell, especially if it’s a fruit vinegar. Obviously, there a couple of factors involved, like how often the vinegar was opened, if it ever sat in sunlight for a prolonged period, and so on. The quality of the vinegar itself plays a significant role too. Especially for balsamic vinegar. But usually, the taste differences between fresh and old vinegar aren’t that pronounced.

Pantry shelf with condiments
(credit: Chris Lawton)

Many bottles of vinegar come with a best-by date, but some don’t. There are at least two reasons why that’s the case.

First, as I already mentioned, a few kinds of vinegar are a bit more volatile than others, and you might see some changes in quality over time, hence the date on the label.

The second reason has less to do with vinegar and more with people being people. People tend to trust products with an “expiration” date more than ones without one. So a vinegar with a date is more “trustworthy” than one without. Because of that, assuming that one without a date will hold up better than one with it doesn’t make much sense.

Pantry
Vinegar (unopened)Best-by + 5+ years
Vinegar (opened)2+ years

Please note that the periods above are only estimates and for the best quality. Vinegar stored properly will stay safe indefinitely.

Bottle of vinegar
(credit: felishumanus)

How To Tell If Vinegar Has Gone Bad

As I already mentioned, vinegar pretty much lasts forever if you take good care of it. The acid in the liquid does a great job of inhibiting any bacterial growth, except the bacteria naturally present in vinegar, of course.

And as you already know, if any sediment, cloudiness, or slimy discs form in the bottle, the liquid is still safe to use, as the mother of vinegar is harmless.

Because of that, the only thing you need to worry about is the quality of the liquid. Some kinds of vinegar retain quality better than others, thus if a dish relies heavily on the taste of the condiment, check its quality before using it.

To do that, give it a whiff and taste a teaspoon to asses the flavor. If everything is as it should be, feel free to use it. Otherwise, it’s probably better to use a fresh one and utilize this one for dishes that just need some acidity.

2 thoughts on “Does Vinegar Go Bad?”

  1. Last night, I was making hamburger BBQ for my grandchildren. I dumped all the ingrediants in the pan, like I have hundreds of times. I gave it a good stir and then did a “taste test.” Something didn’t taste right. I looked in the vinegar bottle and it said it was good for another year. So I did another taste test. After gagging for a couple of minutes, I opened up the vinegar bottle, which was only purchased around six months ago, and smelled it. It was horrible. My daughter was there and also smelled it. She agreed with me that the vinegar was bad. The bottle got dumped and the BBQ went in the trash. Bad night!

  2. I had a bottle of vinegar that was about 6 months old that had been stored in a dark cupboard.  I went to use it and when I opened it it had a real funky smell and then when looking at it more closely noted that there was a layer of some ort of black stuff on the top.  I poured it down the sink and the black stuff remained until the end when it came out it was a jelly like substance that had a horrible smell.  This was my first time ever experiencing this with vinegar.

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