How Long Does Vanilla Extract Last? Can It Go Bad?
If you are not much of a baker, you won’t find yourself finishing vanilla extract bottle after bottle. But a drop of this liquid makes so much difference in baked goods and frostings that we all want to have it in the kitchen. So, what can we do with an almost full bottle of vanilla extract?
Does vanilla extract go bad? Luckily, vanilla extract doesn’t really go bad. It can last for years if you store the bottle properly. All you have to do is to keep the bottle tightly sealed and somewhere cool and dark. This way, pure vanilla extract has a high chance of lasting forever. Imitation vanilla extract will also last long, for up to 4 years.
Continue reading to learn more about the shelf life of vanilla extract and learn what are the signs to tell you that it is high time you got rid of the flavorful bottle.
You might also want to check some of our recipes that include vanilla extract in case you’ve missed that exotic yet so familiar flavour. (vanilla bean & ginger pie, dark chocolate energy truffles, blueberry chia jam bars).
Plus, since it’s always good to have alternative options, you can read our article about substitutes for vanilla extract.
Can Vanilla Extract Go Bad?
Baking recipes generally call for the smallest amount of vanilla extract. Especially in the case of high-quality extracts, vanilla can be very potent. Thus, you need to use very little of it.
If you are not familiar with the uses of this ingredient and have only bought it to bake something or add it to frosting, you may end up with an almost full bottle sitting in your kitchen cabinet for months.
We do recommend using vanilla extract in other cooking tasks outside of baking. You can make sauces with it and add it to salad dressings for a unique taste and balance. Vanilla extract can be used in a range of dishes to add warmth and depth of flavor.
But if you don’t find yourself using vanilla extract often and the bottle is likely to sit in the pantry for a few more months, there is nothing to worry about.
If you have purchased high-quality vanilla extract, it is likely to have a long, almost indefinite shelf life.
Pure vanilla extract is made with alcohol as the latter is what can successfully extract the flavor of vanilla beans. Alcohol helps vanilla extract last longer. The only thing that will happen to it is that it will slowly evaporate, making your vanilla extract more concentrated. You can always add more alcohol to the vanilla extract to use it longer and keep the flavor at the intensity you like.
How to Store Vanilla Extract?
Providing proper storage conditions for vanilla extract is not difficult.
First of all, you need to make sure that you keep vanilla extract somewhere cool. Room temperature will also work if it is not too hot where you live. The pantry or a kitchen cabinet will work.
Keep vanilla extract away from heat sources. It shouldn’t be near the oven or any kitchen appliances that get hot.
Secondly, keep it away from light. Don’t leave vanilla extract under direct sunlight. Both heat and light cause this flavorful mixture to degrade and be less and less aromatic with time.
Light affects vanilla extract. This is why you always find it sold in darker bottles. While they help, no matter how dark the bottle is, it cannot fully protect the liquid from the sunrays.
Lastly, keep the bottle tightly sealed. It is never good to expose vanilla extract to oxygen.
Another tip that will help you maintain the best quality of your vanilla extract is transferring it to a glass bottle if it comes in a plastic one. Glass is always a better option when it comes to maintaining the flavor qualities of products.
Can You Refrigerate or Freeze Vanilla Extract?
It is a common practice to store products in the fridge or freezer to extend their shelf life. Vanilla extract, however, is not one of them. You should never put vanilla extract in the fridge or the freezer.
Some people think that vanilla extract should be stored in the fridge once the bottle is opened. This is not true. Vanilla extract should be stored at room temperature whether the bottle has been opened or not.
Storing vanilla extract in the fridge or freezer will make it cloudy.
How Long Does Vanilla Extract Last?
In general, there are two types of vanilla extract – pure vanilla extract and imitation vanilla extract. Both are very long-lasting. However, as imitation vanilla is synthetic vanilla, it loses its flavor, taste, and aroma much quicker compared to pure vanilla extract.
Imitation vanilla extract has a shelf life of 2 to 4 years. Once you see that your imitation vanilla extract has lost its qualities, there is no reason to keep.
As for pure vanilla extract, it is likely to keep well for years and even forever. The flavor and taste qualities of pure vanilla extract deteriorate very slowly if you store the product properly.
But don’t be confused to find a ‘Best by’ date on the label of pure vanilla extract. This is because manufacturers are not legally allowed to sell a product without this date. Additionally, they want to make sure you use the extract at its best.
Pure vanilla extract will also reduce in volume over time. As vanilla extract is alcohol-based, it is only natural for this to happen. This makes the extract more intense. But the tighter you seal the bottle the slower will the alcohol evaporate.
How Can You Tell If Vanilla Extract Has Gone Bad?
If you store vanilla extract properly, hardly will you see it going bad. But in any case, it is good to inspect your vanilla extract before using especially if you have had it for months or years.
In the case of imitation vanilla extract, we recommend you pay attention to the ‘Best by’ date. While it won’t tell you much, you will learn how ‘past its date’ your product is.
While vanilla extract doesn’t really go bad, this is true only if it has been stored properly. Improper storage conditions will make your vanilla extract ‘bad’, i.e. flavorless and tasteless.
To check if vanilla extract is still good to use, smell it. If it doesn’t have the pleasant vanilla aroma and smells very different from what it used to, then it is time for you to invest in a new bottle.
Vanilla extract that doesn’t smell good doesn’t taste good either. Thus, it can’t do much for your dishes and baked goods.
Another thing that can happen to your vanilla extract is sediment at the bottom of the bottle. This is normal if your vanilla extract still smells and tastes good. Simply shake the bottle and use it.
But things get tricky if the mixture is also cloudy. Inspect the bottle closely to see if the flavor and taste are still intact. Cloudy vanilla extract is a result of low temperatures. You can still use cloudy vanilla extract, but it probably won’t be as good.
Is It OK to Use Expired Vanilla Extract?
As we have already mentioned, the date on the bottle doesn’t mean much. However, even if your vanilla extract is expired and bad, there are no health risks involved in using it.
Bad vanilla extract will not make you sick. A bigger thing to worry about is that it won’t contribute to the flavor of your dishes and baked goods.
How Long Does Homemade Vanilla Extract Last?
Vanilla extract is so aromatic one would never think it can be made at home with just two ingredients – vanilla beans and vodka.
Homemade vanilla extract doesn’t fall behind the store-bought ones as far as the shelf life is concerned. So long as the beans are submerged in liquid and the bottle is tightly closed, your vanilla extract will be good for years.
What Can You Do with Old Vanilla Extract?
Even if your vanilla extract is bad and you wouldn’t risk using it for cooking purposes, throwing a pricey bottle of aromatic extract away may not sit right with you.
Good news! You don’t need to do it. There are other uses for vanilla extract in the kitchen aside from cooking with it.
You can wipe your fridge with vanilla extract to get rid of harsh odors that get absorbed into any food you store there.
You can also refresh your microwave with the help of vanilla extract. Reheating meat, fish, or other strong-smelling savory dishes may leave your device rather smelly. And what if you want to reheat some leftover pudding in the microwave?
Put a few drops of vanilla extract in a bowl, microwave it for around 60 seconds and you will be surprised how good your device smells.