Balsamic vinegar is a richly flavored, dark vinegar used to compliment different foods, appetizers, and desserts, from salad dressings, pasta, meat dishes to a cheese and fruit spread. Many of us love using balsamic vinegar to add richness and flavor to some of our favorite foods. But, how long does balsamic vinegar last? Does balsamic vinegar go bad?
Throughout this post, I will answer these questions for you in detail. I’ll tell you exactly what you need to know about balsamic vinegar to keep it tasting fresh and delicious as long as possible! Including how to safely and properly store it and how to tell if it has gone bad. Keep reading to find out exactly how long balsamic vinegar lasts!
What is Balsamic Vinegar?
Balsamic vinegar is dark and slightly sweet vinegar with a rich flavor. Popular in Italy and among Italian cuisines. Balsamic vinegar is used to complement many dishes such as pasta, caramelized veggies, or a balsamic glaze drizzled over fruit. You may know balsamic vinegar as a partner to olive oil; they are commonly mixed for an oil and vinegar dressing.
Health Benefits of Balsamic Vinegar
Adding rich flavor to foods isn’t the only reason you should be reaching for that bottle of balsamic vinegar more often. Balsamic vinegar is rich in antioxidants, which can help your body ward off free radicals and slow damage to cells, known as oxidative stress.
Balsamic vinegar may also help aid digestion, support heart health, and help control diabetes. Choosing balsamic vinegar over other high-calorie or processed dressings or flavorings may also be good for your health, simply by helping to eliminate intake of those higher calorie and less healthy dressings and alternative flavorings. Balsamic vinegar is only about 14 calories per tablespoon!
Types of Balsamic Vinegar
There are two main types of balsamic vinegar you can purchase, and they are each suitable for different purposes.
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar
Traditional balsamic vinegar is pure with no additives. The only ingredient is fresh grape juice boiled to a concentrate, fermented and acidified, and then aged for a decade or two in wooden barrels before being bottled and sold in specialty stores.
Traditional balsamic vinegar is meant to be savored for its rich and complex flavors. It’s not meant to be cooked with, as the heat would destroy the flavors. It performs best drizzled over a main dish such as pork or chicken or to top off a dessert or appetizer such as Parmesan Reggiano, vanilla ice cream, or strawberries.
Like a fine wine, over time, traditional balsamic vinegar starts to taste better and better. It is much more expensive and can last for generations if it is stored properly. The process and time are reflected in the price as a small bottle can easily be sold for $50-$200 or more.
Commercial-Grade Balsamic Vinegar
Commercial grade is the type of vinegar you are most likely to have, as this is the everyday vinegar that you’ll find at most grocery stores. It is produced by combing concentrated grape juice with wine vinegar and aged for a few months.
This type of balsamic vinegar is made with concentrated grape juice and wine vinegar. It likely also contains added preservatives to keep it shelf-stable. This type of balsamic vinegar will also last for several years and is marked with an expiration date. It will lose flavor and color over time but can typically last about 3-5 years past the date best-by date printed on the bottle.
Like wine, you can serve different qualities and price points of balsamic vinegar. Depending on the occasion and meal, you may want a different type and richness. For a daily lunch salad, a standard bottle will perform best. If you are entertaining or serving it alongside a nice cheese and fruit spread (and have the budget), you’ll probably enjoy having the best quality balsamic vinegar to complement your food. A nice bottle of authentic balsamic vinegar can be used to drizzle atop appetizers, the main dish, or to top off a decadent dessert.
How Long Does Balsamic Vinegar Last?
The shelf life of balsamic vinegar varies by the type of vinegar. The shelf life of standard grocery store balsamic vinegar is about 3-5 years past the sell-by date or expiration date printed on the bottle.
High-quality or traditional balsamic vinegar from a specialty foods store really has an indefinite shelf life and often only gets better with age. Depending on the quality and grade of the vinegar, it may last longer or shorter depending on storage conditions.
Does Balsamic Vinegar Go Bad?
Yes, balsamic vinegar can go bad. Typically, balsamic vinegar does not go bad regardless of the expiry date that is printed on it. Time merely causes store-bought, also known as regular balsamic or commercial-grade balsamic vinegar, to lose its flavor, color, and potency. However, if you do not store it properly, balsamic vinegar can go bad!
Traditional balsamic vinegar that is found at specialty stores typically has an indefinite shelf life and only tastes better over time, so only poor storage conditions will spoil this type.
Like any food item, it is best to inspect and check it out before consuming, especially if it’s a food item that hasn’t recently been used or may have been stored improperly.
How to Tell if Balsamic Vinegar Has Gone Bad?
If you are using your balsamic vinegar regularly, you probably will not have to worry about your balsamic vinegar going bad. If you haven’t been careful, have stored this product in questionable circumstances, or the packaging is damaged, balsamic vinegar can go bad, and like any food item that has gone bad, it could pose health risks. But, how can you tell if your vinegar has gone bad?
Usually, there will be something noticeable wrong with your balsamic vinegar. Either the smell will be off, or you will see visible signs of mold or bacteria. If you see either of these two signs, make sure to throw out your vinegar right away!
Also, look at the bottle of balsamic vinegar itself. If the container holding the vinegar is in any way cracked or damaged, your vinegar has probably gone bad. Exposure to air and sunlight will cause your vinegar to deteriorate rapidly.
Cloudy balsamic vinegar is perfectly safe to use and consume, though. So, don’t worry if you see a little bit of cloudiness; this is normal! Balsamic vinegar with a lighter color or a less rich flavor is also safe to consume. But, at this point, you probably want to add a new bottle to your shopping list. The taste isn’t going to be nearly as rich and flavorful as it could be!
How Long Will Your Balsamic Vinegar Last Exactly?
The good news is, balsamic vinegar can last a long time, regardless of which vinegar you end up buying. The best way to keep your vinegar tasting good is to store it well. Storing it well will help to keep it fresh and well preserved as long as possible.
For commercial balsamic vinegar, you can expect this product to retain peak quality flavor for two to three years. In some cases, this vinegar can retain its flavor for up to five years. But, this only happens when your bottle of vinegar is kept in the best possible conditions.
For traditional balsamic vinegar, the flavor can last for up to twenty years and even longer when properly stored. Again traditional balsamic is not like other vinegar. It only gets better with age, much like wine does.
How to Store Balsamic Vinegar?
When storing any type of balsamic vinegar, you want to keep four key storage tips in mind:
1. Seal Your Balsamic Vinegar Well to Minimize Contact With Air
Balsamic vinegar does best when it is stored in an airtight container. Leaving your balsamic vinegar out in the open, exposed to air, without being tightly sealed, will cause it to go bad and lose its flavor fast. So, ensure that you close the lid or bottle cap on the bottle fully and tightly. This way, your vinegar lasts for as long as possible!
2. Keep Your Balsamic Vinegar Out of Direct Sunlight and Heat
In addition, never expose your balsamic vinegar to direct sunlight or heat sources for long periods of time. Sunlight and heat are the easiest ways to make your vinegar go bad! This is a fairly hardy kitchen condiment overall, but when exposed to any heat and light balsamic vinegar will start to mold and decay.
So, keep your vinegar stored in a dark place that is kept cool. A kitchen cabinet or pantry is a great option.
3. Store Your Balsamic Vinegar in Dark Containers
Continuing from the last point, to keep your vinegar away from direct sunlight and other types of light, you want to store it in the right type of container. A dark glass bottle will be your best choice. Avoid a clear bottle- even if it looks pretty. A dark glass bottle will block out light and keep your vinegar cool and properly stored.
Again, always close the lid of your bottle tightly, and never keep vinegar near the window. It might look nice to keep an artisan bottle of vinegar out on your counter. But, it is always better to put your vinegar away and store it in a location with less light!
4. Never Refrigerate or Freeze Your Balsamic Vinegar
Lastly, you want to keep your balsamic vinegar cool, but you don’t need to put it in the refrigerator. Some people might be tempted to put their balsamic vinegar in the fridge for storage purposes. Still, this might lead to more harm than good.
Balsamic vinegar should be stored in a dry place. When you put a bottle of vinegar in the fridge, it will start to develop moisture. The water that collects in your bottle will actually cause dilution of your balsamic vinegar. With enough moisture, mold can even develop. So, you want to avoid putting your balsamic vinegar in the fridge if you can.
Really, vinegar does perfectly fine at room temperature! You can potentially freeze your balsamic vinegar in your freezer. But this is not ideal for retaining the quality and taste of balsamic vinegar. Avoid storing vinegar this way, as well.
Karla Kueber is a Certified Evidence Based EFT Practioner and Health Coach, with a double Masters Degree in Education. She works with people to overcome emotional eating, curb cravings, and overcome resistance to eating new healthy foods. You can learn more about coaching with her here.