Skip to Content

Does Vanilla Extract Go Bad?

Does Vanilla Extract Go Bad?

So, you’ve decided to try out some delicious new baking recipes, and you’re searching for all the necessary ingredients. You’ve stumbled upon a half-opened bottle of vanilla extract that has been sitting in your pantry for too long. 

Unfortunately, the recipe didn’t turn out as well as you expected it to. Now, you’re starting to question its shelf life – does vanilla extract go bad?

Vanilla extract contains a decent amount of alcohol, which acts as a preservative, so it certainly won’t go bad anytime soon. But can it last indefinitely?

To answer this and several other questions about this spice, we’ve examined this topic thoroughly. In this article, you will learn about vanilla extract’s shelf life, and we’ve also provided you with some handy storage tips. Read on, and let’s get to baking!

Does Vanilla Extract Go Bad?

Firstly, there is a big difference when it comes to pure vanilla extract and the imitation of vanilla extract. However, both versions are not suitable for bacteria growth, so spoilage is unlikely to occur.

Let’s start with pure vanilla extract – it is much more expensive than the imitation, and it’s pretty easy to distinguish the two. A pure version has an indefinite shelf life if stored properly, of course. That’s because vanilla extract contains a minimum of 40% of alcohol, which slowly evaporates after you open the bottle. That will result in a much more intense taste of extract after a few years. 

Don’t let the best-by date confuse you, as it is often there simply because the law requires it. Pure vanilla extract can be used years after that date, so there’s nothing to worry about.

The imitation vanilla extract usually stays good for 2 to 4 years if stored properly. It has less flavor than the real version, and it also won’t keep that well. 

The best-before-date will give you some guidelines on how long the product will stay at its peak quality, but in reality, it will be safe to use months after that date. But overall, its fragrance and taste will start to drop significantly after a few years. The longer you store it, the worst its taste will be.

See Also: How Long Do Vanilla Beans Last?

About Vanilla

Vanilla comes from a tropical orchid that is cultivated mostly in Central America, South Pacific, and Africa. More than 80% of vanilla comes from Madagascar. 

Vanilla orchid grows on a vine, and each vine needs its tree to grow on. The vine usually flowers after 2-3 years, and when it does, the flower blooms for just one day. Vanilla blossom is pollinated by hand, on the exact day it blooms. So, now you probably realize why pure vanilla costs so much. 

Each flower produces one pod, which takes 7-9 months to ripen. After that point, the beans go through multiple curing processes, which can take up to a year. 

The vanilla extraction process involves washing and soaking the vanilla beans in the alcohol and water solution. Flavors are basically pulled from the seeds into the alcohol. 

Let’s look at the nutritional value of vanilla extract per 100 g:

Total Fat0,1 %
Sodium9 mg
Total Carbohydrate (sugar)13 g
Protein0,1 g
Phosphorus0,9 mg

Vanilla extract is mostly made of water (65%), alcohol (33%), and 2 % of carbs. It is meant to be used as a spice, so 1 tsp or a few drops will surely be enough.  

The Difference Between Pure Vanilla And Imitation

Imitation version is a weak solution of naturally derived or artificially derived ( synthesized in a lab) vanillin. The imitation vanilla extract lacks in flavor and is much more simple in taste than pure vanilla extract.

Let’s see the nutritional profile of imitation vanilla extract:

Total Fat0 %
Sodium4 mg
Total Carbohydrate (sugar)2,4 g
Protein0,1 g

As you can see, much of the minerals are lost, and levels of carbs and sodium are much lower than in the pure version. All in all, pure vanilla gives baked goods a richer flavor, with no chemical aftertaste. The pure version is much more expensive, but it is definitely worth it if you ask us.

How To Store Vanilla Extract?

Both pure vanilla extract and synthetic ones should be kept at room temperature. As light can affect it, keep it away from the direct sunlight. Store it away from the heat sources, as it will cause its taste to degrade.

The best place to store your vanilla extract is in a cool and dark place, and the pantry, kitchen cupboard, or even spice drawer are perfect for that.

Opened or not, the vanilla extract should always be sealed tightly when not in use. That’s for the best if you want to preserve it from oxidation and bacteria contamination and preserve its shelf life.

If you’ve bought vanilla extract in a plastic bottle, you can transfer it to the glass bottle or jar to preserve its quality for a more extended period.

An essential thing to remember is- don’t ever refrigerate or freeze vanilla extract. Low temperatures might damage it – alter the taste, smell, and even consistency of the product (it will cause it to become cloudy). Cool, dry and dark places are for sure enough storage conditions for vanilla extract to stay at its peak quality longer.

How To Tell If Vanilla Extract Is Spoiled?

As we’ve already mentioned earlier, it’s unlikely for vanilla extract (both pure and synthetic) to go bad anytime soon if sealed tightly. However, there is still a slight possibility of spoilage, and the signs will be pretty visible.

The first telltale signs of rotten vanilla extract are loss of aroma and vanilla flavor. Also, the consistency may appear cloudy, or there could be some sediment at the bottom of the bottle. However, note that you can still use it, but it won’t give you the best quality, and the flavor would be off.

Also, if you notice some discolorations, like the much darker or lighter color, the extract is probably past its due.

Next off, if it doesn’t smell like vanilla extract, or it smells stale and unpleasant, it is a sure sign of spoilage, and you should throw it away.

Moreover, if you notice some bacteria growth on the inside of the cap, the product is not safe for usage anymore. That’s unlikely to happen, but you should always check the bottle before using the extract just to be on the safe side.

Keep in mind that vanilla extract by itself tastes terrible as any other concentrated extract. It has a relatively strong flavor, and it’s not meant to be consumed alone – it is meant to flavor other foods. So, that is not a reliable method by which you will know for sure if it’s bad or not.

Moreover, pure and synthetic vanilla extracts have a slightly different appearance and smell. If you’ve recently switched from synthetic to pure version, don’t assume straightaway it is spoiled because pure vanilla will have a much stronger and richer taste.

Does Vanilla Extract Go Bad – Conclusion

In general, pure vanilla extract has an indefinite shelf life. On the other hand, synthetic vanilla extract can’t last forever, and that’s the main difference you should keep in mind when purchasing. Still, imitation or pure, vanilla extract definitely won’t stay at peak quality forever.

Additionally, if you notice some changes in the liquid’s consistency, unpleasant taste, and smell, or even some growth inside the cap, throw the whole thing away. 

It is important not to freeze it or refrigerate it, as it might damage the extract or change the taste and consistency. Always store your vanilla extract at room temperature, preferably in some cool and dark place. 

Pantry or cupboard will work just don’t keep it near the sources of heat or direct sunlight. Moreover, keep it sealed tightly when not in use.

Remember that vanilla extract is rich in antioxidants, has several minerals, and has no fat. So, the next time you bake muffins, consider adding a few drops of this spice, as it will give that extra kick of flavor. However, don’t put too much as it is high in sugar and will significantly alter the taste of your pastry.