Does Vanilla Extract Go Bad? Does It Really Expire?

Almost every baker has vanilla extract stored in their pantry, and it’s one of the most commonly used flavoring ingredients for most recipes. However, does vanilla extract go bad? And does it actually expire?

It does depend on the type of vanilla extract but in general, it has an indefinite shelf-life, but it will lose its flavor which might ruin your recipe which is why it’s worth understanding how to know when it has gone bad.

What is Vanilla Extract?

Firstly, it’s important to understand what is vanilla extract and how it’s made which can help you understand why it has a long shelf-life.

When you browse almost every baking recipe on the internet, you will see that the recipe calls for vanilla extract and this is one of the key ingredients for flavor.

When you shop for vanilla extract you will see some variations, but it’s best advised to keep your eye on pure vanilla extract which as the name suggests is more natural.

So, how do you make pure vanilla extract, and what goes into it? As this article explains really well, it’s made by grinding and mashing vanilla bean pods in a solution of water and alcohol (ethanol).

You might have also heard of artificial vanilla extract which is cheaper in the supermarkets and easier to purchase because as the name suggests, it’s unnatural in the way it’s made.

Pure vanilla extract has better flavor, but you might not notice much difference in most baking recipes which is why opting for the artificial version can be a good alternative if you’re looking to save money.

Can Vanilla Extract Go Bad?

From the perspective of food safety and whether you can use it again, the vanilla extract doesn’t go bad, but in terms of expiry, and its true best before date, it will lose its flavor which can ruin your baking recipe.

It’s important to know how it expires, especially if you have purchased an expensive pure vanilla extract.

As explained in this post, food producers and manufacturers are legally obliged to include their use by and best before labels on their products, and it also tested in various ways to help them determine these dates.

Best before dates is more about the quality rather than the safety.

Vanilla extract keeps its strong flavor and aroma thanks to its alcohol content which is why it stays fresh for so long – it will stay fresh for up to 10 years.

For regular bakers, there’s little chance that vanilla extract last that long in the first place! However, in case you have old bottles leftover, rather than throwing them out, you might get some good use out of it.

The only way vanilla extract will go bad is if you leave it stored at the wrong temperature and kept unopened for a long time, which can increase the chances for bacteria to grow – however, this is very unlikely.

You can experiment and give it a go, but who has time for that?

How To Tell If Vanilla Extract Is Bad?

The vanilla extract which has been stored in a cupboard for years and years will eventually go bad in terms of quality rather than safety.

Therefore, in order to tell if it has gone bad can be determined by the loss of aroma when you open the bottle and smell it.

The loss of aroma means it has lost its potency and flavor which will be useless for any baking recipes which is why it’s best advised to throw it away.

It’s easy to know if pure vanilla extract has lost its aroma, but the artificial variation has a different aroma, and it might be difficult to tell if it has gone bad.

What is the shelf life of vanilla extract?

Vanilla extract, whether pure or artificial, has a very long shelf life and if you’re a regular baker, you will rarely run into the issue of having expired vanilla extract.

Here is how:

  • Pure vanilla extract can stay fresh up to 10 years and has an indefinite shelf life.
  • Artificial vanilla can stay fresh for up to 4 years (but it might vary accordingly to the brand).

Exceeding this can lose its quality in terms of flavor, aroma, and potency which ultimately can ruin any baking recipe but it is safe to use if you wish.

How Long Does Homemade Vanilla Extract Last?

If you make homemade vanilla extract, it’s likely that the recipe calls for the same ingredients and methods of how pure vanilla extract is made.

As a result, because it’s essentially the same thing, the answer doesn’t change which means homemade vanilla extract has an indefinite shelf life and will stay fresh for up to 10 years.

How to store vanilla extract – the best way

If you’re making homemade vanilla extract, it’s extremely important to use an air-tight bottle and keep it stored in a dry and cool place.

Vanilla extract, which you can buy, comes in a small bottle, and you should keep it stored in a cool and dry place like a cupboard.

There’s no need to ever store your vanilla extract in the fridge or freeze it, in case you’re wondering.

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