Vinegar is a key component in our favorite condiments (i.e., ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise) and a go-to ingredient in marinades, dressings and sauces (not to mention, a divine addition to deviled eggs). In fact, we try to use this magical fermented liquid whenever possible to wake up the palate and add nuance to dishes that would otherwise taste one-dimensional. That said, we sometimes accumulate more vinegar than we can make use of in a short time (and even have a few bottles that have been lurking in the back of the cupboard for months, if not years). So, does vinegar go bad or expire? We have the answer, friends, and it’s all good news.
Does vinegar go bad?
Many of the items in your kitchen (like yogurt and olive oil) are prone to spoiling or, at the very least, declining in quality over time...but vinegar isn’t one of them. That’s right, vinegar does not go bad—so that bottle of balsamic you bought a bajillion years ago is still totally safe for dressing a salad. According to The Vinegar Institute, “vinegar’s shelf life is almost indefinite” and due to the high acidity of the product, it is also “self-preserving and does not need refrigeration.” Phew. This infinite shelf life applies to unopened and opened bottles of vinegar of all kinds. That said, white distilled vinegar is the only type that will remain “virtually unchanged” over a period of time, while the other varieties of vinegar are likely to experience some subtle changes in appearance (more on that below), none of which affect the safety, flavor or quality of this kitchen staple.
Ok, but what’s that weird sediment forming in my bottle of vinegar?
If your bottle of vinegar has been hanging around for a considerable amount of time, sediment may form which will in turn give the liquid a hazy appearance. This is completely harmless and has no effect on the flavor of the vinegar. You may also see some slimy discs at the bottom, called a “mother.” This substance may look freaky but is also totally harmless and can even be used to make a new batch of vinegar if you’re so inclined. If any of these changes in appearance bother you, you can simply strain them out by passing the vinegar through a coffee filter.
How to store vinegar
The truth is that vinegar is unlikely to expire no matter how you store it. Still, for optimal flavor, it’s best to keep vinegar in the glass bottle it came in (or plastic, as is often the case with white distilled vinegar) and find a storage spot that is removed from intense, direct sunlight. There’s no need to stick your vinegar in the fridge (though you’re welcome to) because it will keep just the same in the pantry or any other place where it isn’t cooking in the sun. Finally, remember to always tightly close your vinegar after each use to prevent excessive exposure to air.
Creative ways to use up your vinegar
Now that you know that vinegar basically lasts forever, you might be tempted to bring home the biggest bottle of the stuff you can find...and you’re not wrong to do so. Vinegar is beloved for its tart, acidic taste, which can be used in an array of dishes to achieve a more balanced flavor. (Bonus: This liquid gold also does a bang-up job of deglazing a pan.) You might already be familiar with the flavor boost this basic item provides, but it turns out vinegar can do quite a lot outside the kitchen, too. Apple cider vinegar, for example, might just be the missing ingredient from your beauty routine: Fans of the stuff swear it delivers luscious locks when used as a hair rinse as well as glowing skin when applied to the face—and a quick soak in the stuff can even leave your feet fungus-free and silky-smooth. White distilled vinegar, on the other hand, is a widely-used cleaning agent that boasts the ability to remove stains, disinfect surfaces, remove build-up from showerheads and clean almost any appliance, from coffee-makers to washing machines. Yep, this humble pantry item is actually an all-purpose product that never goes bad. In other words, by all means, buy in bulk.