One of the most commonly used ingredients in baking, vanilla extract is a true kitchen staple. If you have an old container of vanilla extract and want to know if it’s safe to use, you will find the answer in this article.
First, you need to know what type of vanilla extract you have. The most common types are pure vanilla extract and imitation vanilla extract. But there are other varieties including Mexican and Madagascar vanilla extract.
No matter what type of vanilla extract you have, we will cover how long they stay good, how to tell if your vanilla extract has gone bad and more.
So how long does vanilla extract stay good?
When stored in a cool dry place vanilla extract will stay good indefinitely. Vanilla extract will not spoil when stored away from heat but it’s flavor will degrade over time.
Your vanilla extract will remain safe to use and flavorful for many years. The key to making your vanilla extract last is by storing it away from direct sunlight in a cool dry location like your pantry.
Now let’s get into the details for each type of vanilla extract.
Related: Vanilla Bean Substitute
What is vanilla extract?
Vanilla extract is produced from vanilla bean pods. The pods are distilled in a solution of alcohol and water.
Pure vanilla extract refers to an extract that contains no less than 35 percent alcohol content with at least 100g of vanilla bean per liter of liquid content.
Pure vanilla extract offers a rich and complex flavor profile prized by bakers the world over. Pure vanilla extract is significantly more expensive than imitation vanilla extract.
Imitation vanilla extract is produced using wood pulp, which contains the key flavor component vanillin. Vanillin is the primary source of flavor in all types of vanilla extract, but pure vanilla extract contains other compounds that produce pleasant flavors.
Artificial vanilla extracts tend to provide less flavor than pure but it is a popular option as it is much less expensive than pure vanilla extract.
While pure vanilla extract provides a fuller array of flavors, imitation vanilla extract works in baked dishes.
- No Churn Vanilla Ice Cream without Condensed Milk
- Monster Cookies without Peanut Butter
- Chocolate Chip Cookies without Brown Sugar
Will pure vanilla extract expire?
Pure vanilla extract has a long shelf life.
When stored in a dark location out of direct sunlight it will stay good for at least 10 years.
The presence of alcohol allow pure vanilla extract to last much longer than vanilla beans alone.
While it is highly unlikely that your vanilla extract has spoiled, it can lose it’s flavor and color over time. Vanilla extract less than 10 years old will most likely retain it’s full flavor.
But vanilla extract older than ten years will be safe to consume if stored properly. The only issue is that the flavor may be weaker than a new bottle of extract.
This is good news since pure vanilla extract is quite expensive.
The primary cause for vanilla extract spoiling is improper storage methods. If your vanilla extract has been sitting in direct sunlight or in temperatures exceeding 90 degrees for an extended period of time it may have gone bad.
Storing vanilla extract without it’s lid on can also lead to rapid degradation or spoilage.
Can artificial vanilla extract expire?
Imitation extract has a similar shelf life to pure vanilla extract. It’s shelf life is anywhere from 5 to 10 years when stored in a cool dark place out of direct sunlight.
Imitation vanilla extract will lose flavor and color over time and this process will be accelerated by improper storage.
Artificial vanilla extract will hold it’s flavor for many years when stored with it’s cap on in the pantry.
Even when over 5 to 10 years old, imitation vanilla extract will likely be safe to use and will only have less flavor.
Does Mexican or Madagascar vanilla extract go bad?
These types of vanilla extract also offer a long shelf life of up to 10 years. When stored properly, Madagascar and Mexican vanilla extract are unlikely to spoil.
Similar to pure and imitation vanilla extract, these types of extract can lose their flavor over time.
The best way to ensure your vanilla extract does not lose it’s flavor or go bad is by storing it in a cool dark location with the lid on your bottle.
How to tell if vanilla extract has gone bad
While it is unlikely that your vanilla extract has expired, you can check it for signs of spoiling if unsure.
Simply smell or taste your vanilla extract. Any off scent or flavor means that it has expired.
You are more likely to find vanilla extract with less flavor than one that is actually spoiled. For this reason it is a good idea to taste test old vanilla extract before using it in your recipe.
If the flavor has degraded a significant amount, it will effect the final flavor of your recipe. And vanilla extract is an important flavor in any recipe that calls for it.
If you find your extract’s flavor has severely diminished it is better not to use it.
Why is your vanilla extract cloudy?
Cloudy vanilla extract is a sign that it has been improperly stored. Direct sunlight or extreme heat will lead to evaporation and that will cause a cloudy effect in your vanilla extract.
Being cloudy does not mean your vanilla extract has gone bad though. If it smells and tastes right it is still safe to use.
If you find the flavor and aroma have degraded it may be safe to consume but will not impart the flavor needed for most recipes.
Always be certain to store your vanilla extract in a dark cool location to avoid it becoming cloudy.
Why are there black specks in your vanilla extract?
Black specks in vanilla extract can be one of two things. They are either little pieces of vanilla bean or vanilla pods. But it could also be little specks added by the manufacturer to give the allusion of a higher quality product.
There is also the chance that it is contaminated with a completely foreign object. This is more likely if your vanilla extract was stored without being properly sealed.
While black specks may be nothing to worry about, if you question how your vanilla extract was stored then it is better to be safe than sorry and not use it.
Why does vanilla extract smell like alcohol?
It is normal for pure vanilla extract to smell like alcohol. In fact, it is produced by using ethanol and alcohol must be at least 35% of the liquid content of pure vanilla extract.
The smell of alcohol can be particularly strong in a new bottle of vanilla extract. Over time, some alcohol will evaporate, lowering the aroma.
So the presence of the smell of alcohol is noting to be concerned about and does not mean your vanilla extract has gone bad.
What is the shelf life of vanilla extract?
While we touched on it above, let’s go over the specific shelf life of each type of vanilla extract.
While it is unlikely for your vanilla extract to expire, it can lose it’s pleasant flavor and aroma over time so it is a good idea to know how long it will keep it’s flavor when stored.
We will cover pure vanilla extract, imitation, Mexican, and Madagascar vanilla extract.
How long is pure vanilla extract’s shelf life?
You can expect your pure vanilla extract to last for between 5 and 10 years. The flavor should not degrade in this amount of time when stored properly.
How long is the shelf life of artificial vanilla extract?
The shelf life of imitation vanilla extract varies quite a bit and depends on the quality of the product. On the low end, it’s shelf life is up to 2 years while higher quality artificial vanilla extract will last up to 5 and even 10 years.
How long is Mexican vanilla extract’s shelf life?
The shelf life of Mexican vanilla extract depends on it’s quality. High quality Mexican vanilla extract will last up to 10 years but cheap Mexican vanilla extract may only retain it’s flavor for up to 2 years.
What is the shelf life of Madagascar vanilla extract?
Most Madagascar vanilla extract will last between 4 and 5 years. It may start to lose it’s flavor and color beyond 5 years. In order to extend the shelf life of your Madagascar vanilla extract, keep it sealed and stored in a cool dark space.
What is the shelf life of homemade vanilla extract?
If you made your vanilla extract you can expect it to retain it’s full flavor and color for up to 10 years.
When stored properly, homemade vanilla extract will last just as long as store bought pure vanilla extract.
How to store vanilla extract
The best way to ensure your vanilla retains it’s flavor the longest time possible is by storing it properly.
Vanilla extract should be kept sealed in it’s original container and placed in a dark, cool location.
The pantry or a cupboard is an ideal location for storing vanilla extract. Be sure that it is not in direct sunlight or where there are high temperatures.
Heat and sunlight will accelerate the evaporation process and lead to a loss in flavor and color.
If you have homemade vanilla extract store it in a dark bottle that will provide protection from sun. And store it in a cool dark spot.
Do you need to refrigerate vanilla extract?
No. Vanilla extract does not need to be refrigerated even after opening. Vanilla contains alcohol which acts as a preservative and allow it to be safely stored at room temperature.
Additionally, since vanilla extract is primarily used for baking it can be detrimental to store it in the fridge. Baked ingredients as a general rule, should be used at room temperature. Therefore, if you stored your vanilla extract in the refrigerator you would need to wait until it reached room temperature before you could use it.
Can you get sick from expired vanilla extract?
While it is unlikely that you will get sick from expired vanilla extract, if you believe it has gone bad it is best not to consume it.
Vanilla extract has a shelf life of years and is unlikely to go bad. If you believe your vanilla extract may have gone bad taste and smell it for sign of being “off” before using.
Is 20 year old vanilla still good?
It depends. While 20 years is about twice as long as the expected shelf life for vanilla extract, you will need to smell and taste it to tell for sure.
When a friend was cleaning out a relatives house they found an unopened container of vanilla extract that was at least 20 years old and when she opened it up it was completely good to use still.
Does vanilla extract go bad in fridge?
No vanilla extract does not go bad when stored in the fridge. Though if stored for many years it can lose some of it’s flavor.
Keep in mind that vanilla extract does not need to be stored in the fridge and should be stored in a cupboard or pantry.
What do you do with expired vanilla extract?
If your vanilla extract has an off aroma or flavor you should not use it. If it is only past the “sell by” date then it may be safe to use.
Smell and taste it for any signs of spoilage before use.