Does Vanilla Extract Go Bad?

The chances are that if you like baking, you have an open bottle of vanilla extract sitting in your cupboard. It is, after all, an essential ingredient for a wide number of different pastries, creams, ice creams, cakes, and other desserts.

The question is – how long can you keep using it?

If you want to know whether vanilla extract goes bad, and if so – how to tell it is time to throw it away, then read on.

We have included tips for storing this aromatic and flavorful product for longer shelf life and some explanations about the difference between the various types of this extract and the best ways to preserve them for longer.

The good news is that whichever type of vanilla extract you have at home, it will last for quite a long time, especially if you store it properly.

What is the best way to store vanilla extract?

The correct storage method for this type of product is the same, no matter whether you have pure or imitation vanilla extract.

Make sure to keep the product well-sealed in a glass bottle or jar in a cool and dark place. Ensure to decant it into a glass container if you have purchased it in a plastic bottle. And seal it tightly before putting it away after use.

Also, please keep it away from the cupboards near or above the oven or other heat sources. Also, store the extract away from direct sunlight if you want to preserve its flavor and aroma for longer.

Do not freeze or refrigerate it because the low temperatures can damage the quality of the vanilla extract.

What is the shelf life of vanilla extract?

The main difference between pure vanilla extract and alternative imitation products is the shelf life.

Pure vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in alcohol. It can be made at home or purchased from stores. The label on the product will say “pure,” and it is usually quite a bit more expensive than the numerous imitation vanilla extracts available on the market.

Due to its alcohol base, pure vanilla extract has an indefinite shelf life if kept properly sealed in a dark and cool place.

Keep in mind that over time, the alcohol can evaporate very slowly, so if you keep a bottle of pure vanilla extract for years, its taste can become more intense.

So, suppose you have purchased a good quality pure vanilla extract such as the McCormick All Natural product or the one by Nielsen-Massey. In that case, you can expect it to last for ten years and more easily, even after opening the bottle.

Imitation vanilla extract is less expensive, but it doesn’t have such a long shelf life. It also is not as flavorful as the pure product. Still, if you prefer using the imitation product, you don’t need to worry about it going bad or becoming unsafe to use over time. But what will happen is that its quality will begin deteriorating after some time. So, check the best by date on its label to get an idea of how long it is good. Even after the best-by date, the imitation extract can still be used, but you cannot expect its quality to be as good as it originally was.

Summary of the shelf life and best quality of vanilla extract kept sealed in a cool and dark pantry.

  • Pure vanilla extract – indefinite shelf life no matter whether it is open or not
  • Imitation vanilla extract – up to 6-12 months after the best-by date, whether it is open or not

What are the signs that the vanilla extract may have gone bad?

As mentioned above, if the bottle of vanilla extract is properly sealed and is kept in a cool and dark pantry or cupboard, it should not go bad. The pure extract can intensify in flavor over time due to the gradual evaporation of the alcohol. The imitation product may deteriorate in quality and lose its flavor over time.

But even though it is highly unlikely, if you notice that the pure vanilla extract solution looks strange or has a growth in it or a peculiar smell, then you should throw it away.

So, while it is improbable, it makes sense to sniff and look at the extract before using it, especially if it has not been used for a very long time.

As for the imitation, its quality will begin degrading after the best-by date. It will not go bad, but its flavor may deteriorate. So, give it a sniff before using it, or if months have passed after its best-by date, discard it, and get a new bottle.


What are the differences between pure and imitation vanilla extract?

The main difference between the two is the way these products are made. The pure extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in alcohol, which causes the extraction of the flavor, aroma, and color of essential oils of the beans into the solution. This turns it into a brownish-colored and flavorful extract.

The production process is very simple, so you can make your own vanilla extract by soaking some vanilla beans in alcohol such as vodka at home.

The main component of pure vanilla extract is vanillin, but there are hundreds of other compounds from the beans which make this product so aromatic.

As for the imitation products, they contain synthetic vanillin. While it too is very aromatic, it is not comparable to the “real deal” in taste or aroma.

Still, the imitation product can be used for baking and preparing other desserts because it does taste good. It is also much less expensive than pure vanilla extract.

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