Sometimes it’s difficult to make use of that expensive bottle of the best balsamic vinegar, and months or years later you might be wondering if it’s still good. So, does balsamic vinegar go bad?
Balsamic vinegar does not go bad. The high acid liquid environment is inhospitable to bacterial growth, so a bottle can last indefinitely when stored properly. However, its best quality doesn’t remain long-term and eventually your balsamic vinegar will lose flavor.
How Long Does Balsamic Vinegar Last?
Unopened, in optimal conditions, the shelf life of balsamic vinegar is nearly infinite, like wine, but to get the best out of it, we recommend consuming it within 3 years – a taste test will determine if you still think it can add the right qualities to your food.
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You might get a bit more or less than that, depending on temperature and light conditions, how often you open the bottle, and the exact kind of balsamic you get.
Although vinegar stored for longer than that will still be safe to use, it will likely be disappointing to taste.
Not all “balsamic” vinegar is authentic. A number of manufacturers sell wine vinegar that’s been sweetened, dyed and thickened with various additives.
This fake balsamic vinegar (balsamic vinegar of modeno, IGP balsamic, or salad dressing balsamic) is sometimes aged for as little as two months before it’s sold and there’s not a lot of regulation governing the sale of it.
However, all types of balsamic vinegar (the real stuff, the kind of real stuff, the fake stuff, and the extra fake stuff) have similar shelf lives and should be stored identically.
How Can I Tell When Balsamic Vinegar Goes Bad?
The only way balsamic vinegar can go bad is if it is stored without the cap on and becomes contaminated. Even then, the acidic environment isn’t friendly to microorganisms, but there is still a slim chance that it can turn bad under certain conditions.
- Look at the liquid – if it’s cloudy or settles, or you notice a small amount of sediment, it should still be okay. The weird stuff you see is most likely a compound called “mother of vinegar“. It’s totally safe to consume, and you can strain it out with a coffee filter if you like.
- If there are any substantial changes in texture or you can see mold, it’s no longer good.
- Sniff the contents – If you open a bottle of balsamic vinegar and it smells rancid, throw it out.
- Taste it before using – the flavor should be a little acidic with a hint of sweetness. Any harsh taste may indicate it’s spoiled and will no longer be suitable for use in your cooking.
If your friend’s vinegar or the vinegar you get at a restaurant tastes different than the kind you have at home, it’s most likely because it’s a different grade or brand, not because your vinegar has gone bad.
Balsamic Vinegar Shelf Life
Balsamic vinegar won’t go bad or make you sick if it’s a few years past the expiration date. But it will start to deteriorate in quality, losing those distinctive flavors.
Although generic balsamic vinegar technically lasts indefinitely, after three to five years it will start to be less appealing.
Storing vinegar correctly will reduce evaporation and help ensure that your vinegar keeps its flavor for longer.
This is similar to the process by which an expensive wine or whiskey is aged. The liquid absorbs flavors from wooden barrels and has time to “mature” and mellow out as various chemical reactions finish.
Several more expensive varieties of real balsamic vinegars are aged for over 25 years.
How To Store Balsamic Vinegar
It’s important that you store your vinegar in a way that it’s protected from its three natural enemies:
The best place for your balsamic vinegar is in a cool, dark cupboard. Always make sure the bottle is tightly sealed to avoid evaporation and contamination.
While vinegar isn’t exactly the same as wine, the Australian Wine Institute details some of the effects that light has on fermented grapes: wine in clear bottles began to taste like “wet dog” after only three and a half hours under a fluorescent lamp.
The same study suggests that merely storing wine in a tinted green bottle raises its resistance to light by a factor of 5 to 10.
This reinforces the idea that you should only buy light sensitive liquids (wine, olive oil, balsamic vinegar) from brands that ship their products in dark bottles.
The ideal temperature range is between 59F to 78F. You don’t need to panic if your cupboard hits 85F a few times during the summer, but if your vinegar is stored at that temperature for a year it will noticeably change the flavor.
Does Balsamic Vinegar Need To Be Refrigerated?
Although you can refrigerate balsamic vinegar, it is not a requirement – and not the optimal storage environment.
The colder temperatures can cause changes to the flavor over time, and humidity may cause condensation inside your bottle which will dilute the vinegar.
If you mostly use it for salads, you may prefer it cold, so it’s not the end of the world if you like to store it in the fridge. However, for preparing sauces and marinades, it’s better to keep it at room temperature in the pantry.
Balsamic vinegar is an amazing ingredient that can transform plain food into something more luxurious. However, it can be expensive, so it’s important to understand how to make it last as long as possible.
Here are some final quick tips to help prevent your balsamic vinegar spoiling.
- Store balsamic vinegar in a cool cupboard or refrigerator.
- Be sure to replace the cap after each use and consider storing it in a box or taking other measures to keep it from away from light.
- If it starts to change flavor drastically or smells rancid, throw it out.