Does Vinegar Go Bad?

There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about vinegar and I have been asked a number of times whether vinegar can go bad. 

The fact that store-bought vinegar has a best before date adds to the confusion so let’s clear things up and find out whether vinegar can go bad.

This article relates to store-bought vinegar that has a guaranteed acidity, not homemade vinegar.

Can Vinegar Go Off?

The short answer is no.

Vinegar is an acid and will remain an acid even when stored at room temperature. 

The acid content of vinegar is high enough that spoilage organisms cannot grow or survive in the acidic environment.

This means the shelf life of vinegar is indefinite. 

Why Does Vinegar Have A Use By Date?

Vinegar Use By Date

Not all vinegar has a use-by date. In the UK at least some vinegar producers like Sarsons don’t have an expiration date on the bottle.

Some vinegar producers do and I think this is more to do with factors like consumer confidence and a couple of aesthetic factors that we shall look at below.

My Vinegar Looks Weird!

It is possible that given enough time in the back of a cupboard that vinegar will change the appearance.

This might be something like a subtle change in colour, a haze forming or even a gelatinous mass forming in the vinegar. Is this a cause for concern?

It is quite common for vinegar to go hazy as it ages and unpasteurised vinegar will typically be hazy or have sediment that will make the vinegar cloudy.

This is completely normal. Hazy or cloudiness will not affect the flavour or taste and only alters the appearance of the vinegar.

Vinegar Mother Forming

What about a jelly-like blob in your vinegar.

while it can seem gross a jelly-like mass in your vinegar is again completely normal.

This gelatinous blob is called a mother and is created by the bacteria that make vinegar.

It is most common to find a vinegar mother in unpasteurised vinegar but they can also form as pasteurised vinegar ages in some cases.

Is There Anything That Can Spoil Vinegar?

Whilst vinegar will last indefinitely if it is stored appropriately, there are things you don’t want to do to avoid having to throw vinegar away. 

Fruit Flies

Vinegar needs to be kept in a sealed bottle or container. If you leave vinegar exposed to the air for any length of time it will inevitably attract fruit flies.

Fruit flies can smell vinegar a mile off and if the bottle is open they will get in.

Dilution

If you add anything to vinegar or dilute it in any way then the acidity will be effected. Adding water, liquid, vegetables, herbs and so on will dilute the acidity so you cannot be sure of the level of preserving power. 

Pickling with vinegar reduces the acidity and, yes, they still last a long time and have a long shelf life they won’t last indefinitely like undiluted vinegar.

How To Store Vinegar

Storing vinegar is in no way technical. It really is a case of keeping it in a cool, dark place such as a cupboard. Avoid any temperature fluctuations. There is no need to refrigerate vinegar.

Vinegar needs to be sealed in an airtight bottle to prevent flies and any other contamination.

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