That bottle in your cabinet may be a little past its prime, but no need to toss it just yet.
Head to the vinegar shelf at your grocery store, and you know there’s a huge variety out there, each providing distinct fruity, tangy, herbaceous, or sweet notes that particular recipes call for. The problem: It becomes way too easy to accumulate bottles on bottles of the stuff after only using a glug or two in those specific dishes. Before you know it, your cabinet is cluttered with everything from rice and sherry to balsamic and wine vinegars, many forgotten until way past the “best by” date.
If you’ve wondered if they’re salvageable, the good news is that it they’re totally safe to consume, months—even years past that stamp, according to The Vinegar Institute. If you store those bottles, tightly closed, in a cool, dry spot in your kitchen, they’re going to be just fine; vinegar is just too acidic for microorganisms to thrive in. Think about it—humans have used vinegars since antiquity to pickle and preserve food, and fancy aged sherry vinegars can already be more than 75 years old before you crack open that bottle.
Unopened, the bottle can last indefinitely, but you may notice some changes in the vinegar after you’ve cracked the seal. The flavor can mellow or change slightly, it may darken or change color over time, you may notice some sediments develop and settle at the bottom of the bottle, and it may also take on a mild cloudiness—all of which is safe in terms of consumption, though floating sediment may not be the most appealing in your tried-and-true vinaigrette recipe. If those changes freak you out, you’ll want to try to finish the bottle by the best-by stamp, or within six months of opening according to The New Food Lover’s Companion. Just remember, there’s no need to stress or toss the bottle completely if you go a little over.
Looking for creative ways to get to work on your vinegar collection? You can use distilled white vinegar to do everything from clean your grill to deodorize your Instant Pot. Instead of relying on store-bought sugary, pricey drinking vinegars, you can make your own with your favorite vinegar and fruits for shrubs and tangy cocktails. If you want to preserve that summer and spring produce through the winter, you can pickle your favorite fruits and vegetables with your preferred vinegar and spices. Vinegar is a versatile and necessary workhorse in your pantry, and it’s long-lasting enough that you don’t have to worry about spoilage.