Ingredient Intelligence

Does Vinegar Ever Really Go Bad? Here’s How to Tell.

updated Jun 29, 2020
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I’m a big fan of vinegar. It gets daily use in my kitchen, whether I’m making salad dressing, cleaning, finishing soups, or even just jazzing up vegetables. I might even have a slight problem with collecting bottles of vinegar that don’t get as much use as they should (I have the best intentions). You see, I realized I have nine different vinegars in my collection, including a couple that haven’t seen the light of day for years. So I started to wonder: Does vinegar ever go bad? Here’s what you need to know about this culinary condiment that has a nearly endless shelf life.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Does Vinegar Go Bad?

Vinegar is a fermented product to begin with, and the good news is that it has an “almost indefinite” shelf life. According to the Vinegar Institute, “Because of its acid nature, vinegar is self-preserving and does not need refrigeration. White distilled vinegar will remain virtually unchanged over an extended period of time. And, while some changes can be observed in other types of vinegars, such as color changes or the development of a haze or sediment, this is only an aesthetic change. The product can still be used and enjoyed with confidence.”

In addition to cloudiness or sediment, vinegar may develop a slimy substance called a “mother,” which may look and sound scary but is actually harmless. As its name suggests, the mother can even be used to make a new batch of vinegar.

So, we can keep those bottles of vinegar in the pantry for another year, or longer. But we also think it’s time to stop hoarding and start enjoying all those wonderful varieties!