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Does Balsamic Vinegar Go Bad?

You found a half-open “expired” bottle of balsamic vinegar in storage, and you’re wondering if you can still use it. Does balsamic vinegar go bad?

Maybe it’s an expensive bottle of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP, and you don’t want all that money to go to waste. Or it’s a relatively cheap industrial balsamic vinegar, and you want to learn how it’s actually good for.

The good news is that balsamic vinegar (and vinegar in general) doesn’t really go bad. It’s acidic enough to stay safe to use even if you don’t refrigerate it.

The bad news is that not all balsamic vinegars are the same in terms of quality, and better (and more expensive) ones retain quality for longer.

Interested in learning more about spoilage, shelf life, and storage practices for balsamic vinegar?

If so, read on.

Balsamic vinegar
(credit: 96dpi)

Types of Balsamic Vinegar

Before we can move forward, you need a quick primer on types of balsamic vinegar. This will be helpful in the later sections, I promise.

First, we have the traditional balsamic vinegar with two options:

  • Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP
  • Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia DOP

It’s the “genuine” balsamic vinegar that’s aged for years and costs an arm and a leg.

Second, there’s Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP or Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. It’s much less expensive than the “real” one, but still quite good quality-wise. This is the middle brother of the three, both in terms of quality and price.

Last, we have the cheap grocery aisle balsamic vinegar. It’s the most affordable of the three, but still much more expensive than white vinegar.

Its quality isn’t all that great because it’s basically an imitation of the “real deal,” but it gets the job done in most households. If you’re an average Joe like me, you probably buy this one.

This whole mess related to naming and being “genuine” might remind you of another product with similar issues: parmesan cheese.

If your bottle doesn’t say anything about being a traditional balsamic vinegar or doesn’t mention Modena, it’s the cheap variety.

Now that you have the lay of the land, we can discuss all the topics you came here for.

Does Balsamic Vinegar Go Bad?

Balsamic vinegar stays safe to use pretty much indefinitely. Because it’s highly acidic, it remains safe to use for years without any issues.

That’s doesn’t mean the quality doesn’t change over time. It does, especially if we’re talking about the cheap balsamic vinegar options. I go over this in much more detail later in the article.

But, say, your balsamic vinegar looks “weird.” It sat in storage for years, and you’re wondering if something isn’t wrong with it because it certainly looks that way.

There might be one a couple of things happening here. Let’s talk about those.

Changes in Appearance

If your half-open balsamic vinegar sits in storage for months or years, all sorts of things can happen. Some of the most popular ones are:

Cloudiness

Vinegar getting cloudy is quite normal. If it bothers you, you can filter it through a coffee filter or something similar. The quality isn’t affected here at all.

Sediment

Unless your vinegar says “unfiltered,” it’s a filtered one. But even if it’s filtered, it might still contain trace amounts of sediment (or the sediment might form over time), which usually settles on the bottom of the bottle after some time.

Those tiny particles are nothing to be concerned about, and your vinegar is fine. However, if they bother you, strain the vinegar through a coffee filter or a paper towel.

If there’s a big gross blob in your balsamic vinegar, read the section on vinegar mother.

Change of color

A slight change of color to a paler is normal, especially after prolonged storage or if the bottle wasn’t sealed tightly. Such a minor color change is nothing to worry about.

But if yours changed its color completely, assume it’s no good and discard it.

Vinegar Mother

If there’s a gross gel-like blob floating in your vinegar bottle, that blob is called the mother of vinegar. It’s a form of cellulose and it’s completely harmless.

If it grosses you out, you can strain it using coffee filters. If not, you can leave it be, or even eat it. Some people claim it’s the healthiest thing in vinegar and advocate only buying unpasteurized and unfiltered vinegar.

Mother of vinegar is present in unpasteurized and unfiltered vinegar. But even if you go with the more popular filtered variety, the mother might form on its own if there’s some non-fermented sugar or alcohol left in the bottle.

Long story short, if your balsamic vinegar sits in storage for a couple of years already, don’t be surprised if there’s a disgusting small gelly disc floating in the bottle.

If you’re a kombucha drinker, you’re probably familiar with the acronym SCOBY. You can think of vinegar mother as a SCOBY for making vinegar. Check out my article on kombucha’s shelf life and spoilage to see how such a floating gelly thing looks in that popular drink.

If there’s something else wrong with your balsamic vinegar that I didn’t address above (e.g., its smell changed), assume that it has gone bad and discard it. Better safe than sorry.

How Long Does Balsamic Vinegar Last?

Good quality balsamic vinegar should keep quality for 5+ years from the date it was bottled, possibly much longer. Cheap grocery aisle balsamic vinegar, on the other hand, will likely retain flavor for only two to three years.

Both periods are only rough estimates, as you cannot tell for sure how long balsamic vinegar will stay good for. Moreover, it depends on personal preferences, and everyone is different in that regard.

What you should remember is that balsamic vinegar stays safe to use indefinitely, but the better quality one you buy (traditional balsamic vinegar, or the “of Modena” variety), the longer it should keep quality.

Now, let’s talk about the date on the label.

Expiration Date

The date on the vinegar bottle is usually labeled as a “best-by” date, and it’s not an expiration date by any means. It’s about food quality, not food safety.

In other words, it’s an estimate of how long that particular bottle of balsamic vinegar should keep quality. And since vinegar is a preservative that keeps for years, it’s not a stretch to assume that it should stay fine for quite a long time after that date.

How long after the “expiration” date is balsamic vinegar good for?

Unfortunately, there’s no right answer to that question. If it’s a cheap vinegar, it should keep for at least a few extra months. But iff you paid the big bucks for yours, assume at least a year, if not more.

As long as your balsamic vinegar is safe to use, you can give it a taste to tell if the quality is good enough or not.

What’s more, if that vinegar is only a small part of a salad dressing you’re prepping, it probably won’t be a big deal if it tastes only so-so. But if you’re looking to reduce it to balsamic glaze, make sure the liquid tastes at least decent.

Open Balsamic Vinegar

Opening the bottle of balsamic vinegar doesn’t really change anything in terms of storage time. It should stay okay for years as long as you keep it sealed (more one storage guidelines in a moment).

Does Balsamic Vinegar Need to Be Refrigerated?

You don’t need to refrigerate balsamic vinegar – leaving it at room temperature is good enough. There’s no need to transfer it into the fridge after you first open the bottle, either.

The liquid’s acidity is strong enough to prevent any microbes from growing in it (except vinegar mother, which I covered earlier in the article).

Of course, once you use that vinegar in a dressing, you need to keep the leftover dressing refrigerated.

How to Store Balsamic Vinegar

Store balsamic vinegar in a cool and dark cupboard, away from direct sunlight and heat sources. After you first open the bottle, remember to seal it tightly before returning it to where you keep it.

That’s it. Vinegar is one of the food products that doesn’t require much when it comes to storage, and it keeps fine for months or years of opening (depending on quality, of course).

If you forget to secure the lid on the bottle or leave the bottle in direct sunlight, the quality of balsamic vinegar will decrease much sooner, but that’s about it. And the condiment needs to be stored this way for a prolonged period for the quality loss to occur.