Does vanilla extract go bad? This is the first question that always comes to mind if you find an old bottle of vanilla extract sitting in the corner of your cabinet that you haven’t seen for a while.
Understanding the basics about vanilla extract’s shelf life is essential not only for the great baking recipe you’re preparing but also ensures safety for you and your family.
Are you curious about how to tell if the bottle in your hand is suitable for use? You’re in luck. In this unique guide, I’ll break down everything you need to know regarding this heavenly spice’s shelf life, the best tips for storing it, and vital signs to tell if it needs to be discarded.
Let’s take a deep dive into vanilla extract to make the most out of it for your next sweet treat for breakfast, lunch, or a fabulous after-dinner indulgence!
Table of Contents
- What Is Vanilla Extract?
- Types Of Vanilla Extract
- Can Pure Vanilla Extract Go Bad?
- Does Imitation Vanilla Extract Go Bad?
- A Breakdown On Vanilla Extract’s Shelf Life
- How Do You Know If Vanilla Extract Has Gone Bad?
- How To Properly Store Vanilla Extract?
- Can I Store Vanilla Extract In The Fridge?
- Enjoy The Full Flavor Of Vanilla Extract!
What Is Vanilla Extract?
It’s safe to say that vanilla extract is an indispensable staple in every baking enthusiast’s pantry. First introduced in 1874 in Indonesia, this ingredient has claimed its throne as one of the most popular and versatile flavorings around the world for good reasons.
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Natural vanilla extract is produced from tropical vanilla orchids. The vanilla beans are percolated or macerated in a solution of water and ethyl alcohol. Some extracts also contain sugar, caramel color, or corn syrup.
If you dip your finger into the extract to take a quick taste by itself, you’ll notice that vanilla extract has a bitter and unpleasant flavor. However, combined with other ingredients, it gives off a light floral, balmy taste with a sweet fragrance that perfectly enhances any sweet treat.
Vanilla extract is often used to replace vegetable oil in many dishes, mostly desserts. But the great uses of the extract go way beyond baking. From enhancing savory dishes, salad dressings to flavoring hot and comforting beverages, vanilla extract is entirely worth its salt.
Are you interested in exploring vanilla’s journey from plant to extract? Have a quick glance at how this spice came to life!
You should see the video below:
Types Of Vanilla Extract
When shopping for vanilla extract in the marketplace, you’ll come across two main varieties: pure and imitation vanilla extract. There’re some significant differences that set these two apart from each other, most notably the price, production, and flavor.
Pure Vanilla Extract
To put it simply, vanilla is the second most expensive spice worldwide, only next to saffron. Each eight-ounce bottle can cost around $20, some even higher.
This is due to the fact that vanilla growth and production are often challenging and labor-intensive, considering each plant must be pollinated by hands. Plus, 80% of the world’s vanilla comes from Madagascar, which has been hit by terrible weather in recent years.
According to the Standard of Identity in the U.S, vanilla extract is labeled “Pure” only when it contains at least 13.35% vanilla bean extractives and 35% alcohol, with the rest liquid being distilled water.
Pure vanilla extract has a distinctively complex flavor thanks to over 200 aroma and taste compounds layering atop each other. Also, since it’s less processed, this version tends to purer and more intensely flavored, which is why a few drops of it is enough to go a long way.
Imitation Vanilla Extract
As the price of pure vanilla extract continues to rise, many frugal bakers turn to other more affordable vanilla replacements, and one of which is the imitation vanilla extract. At a lower price, this imitation variety can mimic the real deal’s flavor.
Imitation vanilla extract is synthetic because it contains vanillin created in the lab. Vanillin is the main flavor component that gives pure vanilla its flavor profile. With the synthetic version, this vanillin is often derived from wood pulp, clove oil, or pine sap.
While some extract makers include alcohol in their imitation vanilla, the majority of them don’t. Most of these imitation extracts contain little to no alcohol at all.
Because this extract only has artificial vanillin, it’s nowhere near the nuanced, complex flavor of the real stuff. If you plan to incorporate this version in a dessert recipe that calls for pure extract, it’s best to use twice as much to score the vanilla-like flavor.
With some good-quality imitation extract, it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between the real deal and the imitator.
Thus, if you’re concerned about your budget, don’t be shy to use this version for oven-baked goods like making cake with brownie mix. Or you can try making puddings, or cupcakes with this extract.
Find out more about the differences between pure and imitation vanilla extract right here!
Can Pure Vanilla Extract Go Bad?
At its simplest, pure vanilla extract has a pretty much indefinite shelf life if stored properly. The pure extract contains two main ingredients: ethyl alcohol and vanilla bean extractives. Since these two are pretty shelf-stable, there’s an unlikely chance the extract will go wrong.
Walking down the baking aisle, you may notice most bottles of vanilla extract come with a “Best If Used Before” or “Best By” date.
In fact, this has more to do with legal proceedings rather than its quality degradation. A bottle of pure extract is perfectly fine for use years past its expiry date.
Like a fine wine, this ingredient matures and develops a more complex flavor over time. This is because of its alcohol content, which very slowly evaporates each time you open the bottle. As a result, its flavor tends to gradually become more intense and concentrated.
However, vanilla extract only keeps well under proper storage conditions. Though the extract doesn’t make a good breeding ground for bacteria, if left out unopened for too long, it’s still possible for harmful bacteria to enter your bottle.
Therefore, in most cases, if you find a bottle of pure vanilla extract sitting in your cabinet, it should still be perfect for use. But if you notice a strange odor or taste, trust your gut and get rid of it.
Let’s hear it from the professional to see if your bottle of vanilla extract is excellent for good!
Does Imitation Vanilla Extract Go Bad?
Asides from the price difference, shelf life is where the distinction between imitation vanilla extract and its pure counterpart really kicks in. Unlike pure extract, the imitation does come with a limited shelf life.
All imitation extracts arrive with a “Best By” date, which is the manufacturer’s indication of how long it remains at its peak quality. This period is typically anywhere between 3-4 years.
Once passed its expiration date, imitation vanilla’s overall quality will degrade. But that doesn’t simply mean you have to toss it out right away.
You can still make use of it for another 6-12 months without a problem. Just add a couple more drops than usual to make up for the loss of potency.
It’s safe to say the longer you keep a bottle of imitation vanilla extract in the kitchen, the worst and less flavorful it gets. Thusly, after a year or two expired, when there’re no flavors left or the substance shows severe signs of degradation, it’s time to finally dispose of it.
A Breakdown On Vanilla Extract’s Shelf Life
When stored correctly and effectively, here’s how long pure and imitation vanilla extract will keep well for. Please keep in mind that in the case of imitation, you can still get by with it for a couple more months past this period, but the original potency might not be there.
|Types||Storage Life (In Pantry)|
|Pure vanilla extract||Indefinitely|
|Imitation vanilla extract||“Best By” date plus 6-12 months|
How Do You Know If Vanilla Extract Has Gone Bad?
Unlike other spices like ginger where the question if it will expire is vital, your vanilla extract is unlikely to go off. But that doesn’t mean spoilage is entirely impractical. And when it does occur, here’re some telltale signs to check whether the extract is ready to go.
1. Unpleasant Odor
Due to the volume of alcohol, the pure vanilla extract should give off a slight lingering alcohol smell that resembles a spirit. Meanwhile, imitation extract is all about the wonderful vanilla aroma.
Hence, the fastest way to tell if your bottle of the extract is spoiled is by giving it a quick whiff. If it smells just like when you first purchased it, feel free to add it to your favorite sweet recipe.
But if you sense an off odor, there’s definitely something wrong with it, and you should discard it.
2. Mold Development
Typically, pure vanilla extract isn’t susceptible to mold and other fungi due to its high alcohol content. However, if you have the imitation, or that you store either of them in a fridge, freezer or leave them opened in a humid environment for too long, there may be a risk of mold growth.
When you open the bottle, take a glance at the inside of the cap to see if there’s any trace of unwanted growth. In case you notice a fuzzy, cottony substance going on there, it’s best to throw it out for maximum safety.
Especially if the mold grows in a harsh condition like pure extract, it can produce some metabolic by-products that pose severe risks to your health. It may hurt to toss an expensive bottle of pure vanilla out, but safety comes first before any flavoring.
3. Cloudy Texture
Let’s say you find an old bottle of vanilla extract sitting in the cupboard for God-knows-long-long. To check if it’s still suitable for cooking, take a close look at its texture. Ideally, the liquid should have a vicious, consistent texture.
If the extract has turned cloudy, muddy due to constant exposure to heat or direct light, or there’re any impurities floating inside of it, the wisest decision is not to use it at all.
However, you should note that impurity doesn’t always indicate spoiled vanilla extract. Sometimes, the increased sediments on the underside of the bottle are a result of gravity pulling down the flavoring matter. You can lightly shake the bottle before continue using it.
4. Off Flavors
Though vanilla extract can keep well for a long time, it tends to remain at its peak quality only for a limited time. With imitation, this period is around 3-4 years, while the pure extract is much longer at 5-10 years.
After that, the extract will lose its potency over time. Hence, a decade-old bottle of pure vanilla might not taste or smell the same as it initially did ten years ago.
There’re no points in using flat, flavorless vanilla extract. So if the flavor isn’t there as you expected, you should consider purchasing a new bottle.
How To Properly Store Vanilla Extract?
At this point, it’s pretty clear that your bottle of vanilla extract will last for years on end. To maximize its shelf life, below are the most crucial storage guidelines that apply to both pure and imitation vanilla extracts you need to remember.
1. Keep It At Room Temperature
Vanilla extract is best to be store at moderately cool or slightly lower room temperature of between 60-80F. Pantries, cabinets, and kitchen cupboards are common places to keep this shelf-stable spice.
It’s noteworthy that vanilla extract keeps well in cool temperature, not cold. So refrigeration is not recommended for the extract, as it has a tendency to alter its integrity and quality.
2. Store It In A Dark Bottle
Most vanilla extracts arrive in a dark-colored bottle like black or brown. This is especially helpful to reduce its exposure to the damaging light, one of its biggest enemies. If the original packaging is a clear, bright color, it’s best to decant the substance to a dark bottle or vial.
3. Make Sure The Bottle Lid Is Tightly Sealed
When not in use, you should always seal the lid tightly. Allowing the extract to be exposed to the air and light may speed up alcohol’s evaporation and give harmful bacteria a good chance to enter the substance.
Besides, the bottle itself must be airtight to perfectly preserve the extract. If you bought the extract in a plastic bottle, don’t hesitate to transfer it to a glass jar or bottle with a tight-fitting cap that can be well-sealed after each use.
4. Avoid Heat Sources, Light, And Moisture
Without a doubt, these three elements are the biggest enemies of vanilla extract. Frequent exposure to them causes your extract to lose its potency and age prematurely.
Thusly, you’ll want to keep the bottle of extract in a cool, dark, and dry place. A spice drawer or dark cabinet will do, and make sure to keep the cabinet closed whenever not in use.
In addition, storing vanilla extract anywhere near the dishwasher, stove, or refrigerator is strongly advised against. The constant temperature change around these devices can damage your extract.
Finally, make sure that the pantry you choose is far from any direct sunlight from the windows and artificial light system, such as under-cabinet lighting.
5. Decant Into Smaller Bottles
For home cooks who bought a good amount of vanilla extract in a large bottle for years of use in their kitchens, transferring the content into smaller vials or bottles is essential to avoid opening the bottle way too many times.
Make a quick estimation of how much extract you plan to use in the next three months. If there’s more vanilla in the bottle than required, transfer the excess into a good-quality bottle with a tight seal. Once you finish up the first bottle, simply refill as needed.
Have you been storing vanilla extract effectively this whole time? Find out right now!
Can I Store Vanilla Extract In The Fridge?
In short, no. Compared with the storage life of cream cheese or other ingredients, vanilla extract doesn’t really go through a similar spoilage process. It would be completely pointless, as far as safety and preservation go, to refrigerate or freeze your bottle of vanilla extract.
Given that this ingredient has a high content of alcohol, which doesn’t freeze in chilly temperatures, putting it in the fridge does no good for its long-term preservation.
What’s more, low temperatures can make the extract become cloudy and alter its quality in the long run. As a shelf-stable item, the vanilla extract should only be kept in a dark, cool, and dry cabinet, even if you plan to keep it around for a decade of use.
Let’s dive further into some of the most common issues surrounding vanilla extract’s shelf life and storage method so that you can get started on preserving this spice at home like a pro.
Enjoy The Full Flavor Of Vanilla Extract!
Bakers, we all know vanilla extract is one of the secrets to making heavenly desserts, whether it be the shining star of the show or a supporting player. Since it’s one of the most expensive spices that you can have in your cabinet, it’d be better to know a thing or two about its storage life.
By now, I bet you’re well-equipped with everything that you need to know to make the best out of your vanilla extract. In summary, always store the extract in a dark, tightly sealed bottle in a cool and dry pantry where it’s properly sealed from all damaging elements.
If you find yourself an old bottle of vanilla extract in the corner of the cabinet, you’ll know whether it’s still good for use. High-quality pure vanilla can never go wrong. As for imitation, a couple of months passes its expiry date can still get you good flavoring out of it.
However, as they say, the fresher, the better. As soon as you can detect any sign of the extract going bad, spoiled, or invaded with mold, get rid of it to be on the safe side.
It may hurt to throw away a pricey bottle of spoiled vanilla extract, but the last thing you’d want is to compromise with food poisoning risks and mess with your health.
Can you tell your bottle of vanilla extract is good after not seeing it for a while? Do you have a favorite sweet recipe starring this heavenly spice? Tell me more in the comment box right here!