vinegar shelf life

Vinegar Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad?

Vinegar is one of the kitchen essentials every household should have. Sometimes a recipe calls for balsamic vinegar. Another time it is red wine vinegar, and you also need rice vinegar for making sushi. So, why don’t we stock everything in the pantry?

Having a wide array of vinegar is, of course, what everyone wishes. A small amount is enough to brighten up and balance your dishes. Hence, having leftovers is inevitable. However, it sometimes takes months to touch the same bottle again.

When the cleaning day is on schedule, here comes a dilemmatic situation. How long can you keep vinegar? Does vinegar go bad?

Fear not, you’re about to find out the answers on vinegar’s shelf life, its storage methods, and telling vinegar going bad. Sounds interesting? Read on!

Let’s start by talking about the common varieties of vinegar available out there in the market.

Common Varieties of Vinegar

Vinegar is one of the oldest kitchen essentials around the world. While it is primarily used for food preparation and condiment, vinegar is also widely used for other purposes such as cleaning and medicinal use.

Vinegar is a highly acidic solution produced by fermentation of alcohol into acetic acid by groups of bacteria Acetobacter. The source of alcohol can be from alcoholic drinks or fresh produce, like fruit, and grain.

While the varieties are endless, these five types of vinegar are considered as the most ubiquitous.

Balsamic Vinegar

Considered as a culinary legacy of Italy, balsamic vinegar has seen a rise in popularity since several decades ago. Balsamic vinegar is made from crushed grapes (not wine) and aged in wooden barrels for several years.

Balsamic vinegar is primarily used for salad dressings and marinades. The finest quality is perfect for drizzling on fresh fruits and cheese.

See more: Can balsamic vinegar go bad?

Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar (or ACV) is made from the fermentation of apple juice. This vinegar variety is also an essential ingredient for marinades and salad dressings.

Other than for kitchen purposes, apple cider vinegar is also widely used to maintain skin health and promote weight loss.

See more: Does apple cider vinegar go bad?

Wine Vinegar

As the name implies, wine vinegar is made from wine. Red wine, white wine, and champagne vinegar are among the most common wine vinegar. These types of vinegar are versatile, particularly for meaty, hearty dishes.

Sherry Vinegar

Sherry vinegar is also a type of wine vinegar made from sherry wine. This one originated in Spain.

Rice Vinegar

Rice vinegar is more common to use in Asian dishes, notably Japan and China. It is prepared from the fermentation of rice. Rice vinegar is milder and sweeter in flavor. It’s this rice vinegar that gives sushi rice a hint of a sour taste.

Distilled Vinegar or White Vinegar

Distilled white vinegar is typically made from grain alcohol or basically pure alcohol derived from the fermentation of grain. It’s the most economical vinegar and has multi-purposes for both cooking and cleaning.

White vinegar is undoubtedly a household staple. This vinegar is what you need for a pickling solution if you want to make pickles.

How To Properly Store Vinegar

While it can be confusing for some people, storing vinegar takes no effort! It’s easy and requires no preparation.

Vinegar is a highly acidic liquid that acts as a self-preservative on its own. It means that vinegar is not a perishable food.

Unless otherwise stated on the label, any vinegar types can safely stay outside the refrigerator, both unopened and opened bottles.

The ideal storage conditions for vinegar is in a cool, dark place, away from sources of heat and sunlight. As always, a pantry or basement is always preferable. But, a kitchen cupboard or cabinet is excellent as well!

Do You Need To Refrigerate Vinegar After Opening?

In general, refrigeration after opening vinegar is not necessary. The only thing you need to do is make sure that the bottle is tightly closed if you’re not using it. So, you can save some space in the fridge for other items.

Certain producers, however, recommend consumers to store open vinegar in the refrigerator, such as Nakano. Their seasoned rice vinegar is best preserved in the fridge to retain the flavor. But, this is probably because other ingredients are added to the vinegar. Hence, storage instruction is still worth checking.

How Do You Tell If Vinegar Has Gone Bad?

Vinegar is high in acid and a natural preservative on its own. Vinegar won’t spoil or rot as fresh fruit or meat does. However, the quality degrades by time. Old vinegar may not be as great as the new one.

As time goes by, the flavor may start to diminish. Some visual changes are also noticeable.

1. Cloudy liquid

Once a bottle is opened, and the air gets into the container, the liquid can get cloudy or hazy. This is entirely natural and not dangerous.

3. The “mother” of vinegar

If you are noticing something slimy floating on the bottom of the bottle, fear not. You’re looking at the “mother of vinegar.” This floating object is the cellulose produced by acetic bacteria when traces of sugar or alcohol is present.

The mother of vinegar usually starts to develop after the vinegar is opened. Vinegar is a live product, by the way. And this is also a natural occurrence and harmless.

You can make a new batch of vinegar using this mother vinegar. Or, take it out if you don’t prefer looking at this weird floating thing. Use a straining cloth or coffee filter to remove the mother out.

Some producers even include it in their product. This vinegar is usually labeled as unfiltered and unpasteurized, like this apple cider vinegar from Bragg.

If you have an old bottle of vinegar, it’s always worth checking the flavor and taste. Depending on the quality of the products and how you store it, you might notice a slight or significant change in flavor and taste.

Should these attributes are acceptable, feel free to use it. At other times, you may still want to discard any vinegar leftovers for quality reasons.

How Long Does Vinegar Last?

So, you’ve finally realized that it’s impossible to finish every old bottle of vinegar in your storage anytime soon. At this point, nothing else is more important than knowing how long vinegar lasts.

The good news is, vinegar doesn’t expire. In other words, vinegar lasts for a long time or indefinitely.

Premium quality balsamic vinegar can even be something to pass down to your kids.

Although it is not required by law, most producers still print a “best by” date on the label. This date is a rough estimate for a period when vinegar retains its best quality.

This time frame can be different for each kind of vinegar, but it is usually between 2 to 5 years. Distilled vinegar tends to be the most stable variety.

Now, when talking about how long vinegar lasts after opening, there is no straightforward answer. It greatly depends on the quality of the product and storage conditions.

To be on the safe side, it is generally recommended to consume it within one to three years after opening, for the best flavor.

You may see some visual changes, but other than that, it should remain safe for consumption.

If you only use vinegar occasionally or you want to stock up as many varieties of vinegar as possible, the best advice would be to buy smaller bottles. Hence, finishing a bottle in a couple of years should not be a big problem.

Types of VinegarPantry
–   Balsamic vinegar
–   Apple cider vinegar
–   Red wine vinegar
–   White wine vinegar
–   Sherry vinegar
–   Rice vinegar
–   Distilled (white) vinegar
Indefinitely (unopened); for best quality use it within 1 to 3 years after opening


Can you use vinegar after the expiration date?

In general, vinegar is safe to use after the recommended date on the label. However, you may expect a change in flavor or taste. Hence, give it a quick test before using it.

Is acetic acid similar to vinegar?

Acetic acid is indeed the main component of vinegar, but it is not similar to vinegar, per se.

FDA points out that acetic acid is not a compatible substitute for pickled products, which sometimes raises confusion and misleading information to consumers.

Does vinegar contain alcohol?

Vinegar is made by fermentation of alcohol to acetic acid. Generally, only traces of alcohol are found at a tiny amount or negligible amount.

Is vinegar Halal?

According to Islamic dietary rules, as long as vinegar is not converted from alcoholic drinks such as wine, vinegar is halal and permissible to consume.

It means that red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar is not halal because these two are prepared from wine fermentation. Meanwhile, apple cider vinegar is considered halal because it is made from apple juice.


Vinegar is a kitchen staple that has a long shelf life, if not indefinitely. Proper storage is still a must to preserve its flavor and taste. Although it stays safe to consume for many years to come, vinegar does lose its quality over time. Old vinegar is undoubtedly less robust than the new one.

If you prefer to stock up more vinegar varieties, consider buying in a smaller quantity that you can finish within a couple of years. This way, you can always use the vinegar while still in its peak quality. Plus, you’re saving some space and money!

vinegar goes bad

*Photo by serezniy/depositphotos

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