Be it baking cakes, blending up a delicious smoothie, or making an iced vanilla latte, one common and magical ingredient amongst all these preparations would be Vanilla extract! Its sugary and floral taste is enough to elevate any simple dish to Gourmet-level.
But have you ever wondered how long vanilla extract actually lasts? Does it really go bad after all? Ideally, vanilla extract can stay for months and years, but the flavor and essence deteriorate over time. However, if you want to retain the same flavor for longer, you need to understand its types and store them accordingly.
If you are an ardent fan and use vanilla extract regularly, then this article is for you. Read on to find out about its types and how you can store vanilla extract to make it last longer without losing its flavor.
How long does Vanilla Extract last?
When it comes to determining the shelf life, differentiating between imitation and pure vanilla extract is important.
- Pure vanilla extracts have the word ‘pure’ written on the label.
- Pure vanilla extracts are way more expensive than imitation ones.
How long does Pure Vanilla Extract last?
Pure Vanilla extracts have an indefinite shelf life compared to the imitation variants. In fact, if you notice on the bottle or packaging of vanilla extract, it does not really come with an expiration date. It only comes with a best before date.
You can easily increase the shelf life beyond the best-before date. There would be slight changes in quality and taste. However, vanilla extract will still impart flavor to your baked and savory items or beverages.
Pure vanilla extracts have some amount of alcohol in them. When you open the bottle, the alcohol tends to evaporate. This concentrates the flavor with time and only makes the extract intense.
Can artificial vanilla extract expire?
On the other hand, imitation vanilla extracts contain additional preservatives and artificial flavoring agents. These chemicals and flavoring agents do not have a longer shelf life and deteriorate with time. Therefore, imitation vanilla extract cannot be stored for longer than a year or two.
How long vanilla extract lasts purely depends on the storage and handling. If you keep it in hygienic and safe conditions, away from sunlight, while resealing the bottle properly after every use, you can easily extend its longevity by a few months.
In the case of pure vanilla extracts, the better the storage conditions, the longer it lasts.
In short, please remember:
- Pure Vanilla extract lasts indefinitely (opened or unopened)
- Imitation Vanilla extract lasts for 1-2 years (opened or unopened)
- Vanilla beans last for 1-1.5 years
- Homemade vanilla extract lasts for 5-10 years
How to know if the vanilla extract is bad?
While there is not much to worry about Vanilla extract going bad, it may lose its quality and flavor if not stored properly. Here are a few factors to look for to determine if your vanilla extract has gone bad:
You can always rely on your smelling senses to determine if any food has gone bad. The same is the case with vanilla extract. Pure and intact vanilla extract has a soothing, sweet, and rich aroma. Discard immediately if you smell anything apart from the usual vanilla scent, like the bitter or extreme alcohol-like smell.
Taste and flavor
Vanilla extract may seem to taste unusual once it loses its original flavor. You can still use it, but it clearly may not serve the purpose. It does not exactly go rotten or spoiled but loses its flavor too.
If you have not used the vanilla extract for a long time and kept it as is, you may see some sediments or a cloudy appearance inside the bottle. You can try shaking the bottle to see if it goes away. If you still see some sediments settled at the bottom and the extract looks pale, discard it.
Often if you don’t store the extract or seal the bottle well after use, the extract may develop molds. If you see any such growth at the corners of the bottle cap or within the bottle, discard the extract immediately.
What happens if you eat expired Vanilla Extract?
As mentioned before, Vanilla extract does not expire. It only deteriorates in quality with time. Vanilla extract may not cause any harm if you consume it after the best before date. However, you cannot expect the same flavor and aroma as new!
Only if the vanilla extract has developed molds (the chances of which are very low) may it be dangerous. The mycotoxins in molds are dangerous and can cause food poisoning, vomiting, diarrhea, etc.
If the vanilla extract is pure – you can retain it for years. If it is imitation vanilla extract, discarding it after the best before date is advisable.
How to store Vanilla Extract After Opening?
The best way to store vanilla extract is in a glass bottle, away from direct heat or light exposure. Please keep it away from places like your kitchen microwave or sink, where it may get exposed to heat or moisture.
The best place to store it is in the dark, covered kitchen cabinet, and the bottle should remain tightly sealed when not in use. If the vanilla extract has come originally packed in a plastic bottle, make sure to transfer it to a glass bottle to increase its shelf life.
Can you refrigerate or freeze vanilla extract?
While it is highly recommended that you store most food items in the refrigerator to increase their shelf life, the same is not the case with vanilla extract. It would be best not to store it in the refrigerator, reducing its flavor potency. Be it imitation or pure Vanilla extract, keep it at room temperature or slightly cold temperature in a dark place.
The cold air can also cause the extract to become cloudy. You may also see some particles settling at the bottom of the container, which may impact the flavor and shelf life of the extract.
Pure Vanilla extract usually contains alcohol that prevents the growth of bacteria and molds. Therefore, it is safe to store it at room temperature as well.
Remember: Putting it in the fridge won’t spoil it. It will only alter the flavor of the extract, which affects the overall quality.
How is Vanilla Extract made?
Vanilla extract is made by grinding or macerating vanilla beans in a solution of ethanol and water. According to USDA, a pure vanilla extract should contain at least 35% alcohol content and approximately 100 grams of vanilla beans for every 1 liter of solution.
The flavor of vanilla extract comes from a compound in the vanilla beans called vanillin. On the other hand, imitation vanilla uses synthetic vanillin, which is nothing but a by-product of wood pulp.
Pure extracts are considered expensive compared to imitation varieties available easily. While preparing pure extracts, it all depends on the source and type of beans used that add to the extract’s flavor, depth, and complexity. For this, we have described the various types of pure vanilla extracts available in the next section.
Read on to know.
Common Types of Vanilla Extracts
The taste and flavor of the vanilla extract depend on the type of vanilla beans used and where they are sourced from.
There are three commonly known vanilla extracts based on the types and sources. Each one is unique from the others and does not taste like regular vanilla that you may have tried in ice creams or used while baking.
Tahitian vanilla extract has its vanilla beans sourced from Tahiti of French Polynesia. It has a very luxurious and intense aroma, making it the second most expensive condiment after saffron.
Tahitian Vanilla extract is famous among pastry chefs across the world and can be used for preparing both sweets as well as savory dishes. This type is very susceptible to heat, and therefore, it needs to be cold-pressed to preserve its unique flavor.
Also known as Bourbon Vanilla extract, this variant is quite versatile due to the different flavor compounds present. Hence, it is quite suitable for preparing sweets, confectionaries as well as savory items. The consistent texture makes it suitable for hot and cold dish preparations as well.
Does Mexican or Madagascar vanilla extract go bad?
Madagascar Bourbon vanilla extract has a subtle, earthy, and mild flavor that is sweet, creamy, and mellow with velvety after tones. Madagascar Vanilla extract can last for 4-5 years, after which its flavor starts deteriorating.
Mexican Vanilla extract is made from beans originating in the birthplace of Vanilla, Mexico!
This vanilla extract blends well with chocolates, citrus fruit preparations, cinnamon, cloves, and other spice-based savories. It has a blend of deep, creamy, spicy-sweet flavors that is similar to nutmeg or clove. It has a sweet flavor with woody notes.
You can best use it with hot chocolates, chai lattes, spiced cookies, salsas, barbeque sauces, etc. The shelf life of Mexican vanilla extract ranges anywhere from 2 to 10 years, depending on its quality.
What is Imitation Vanilla Extract?
As the name suggests, imitation vanilla extract is fake and is not made from natural vanilla beans or flowers. It is made from a chemical compound produced by natural flowers called vanillin.
Apart from vanillin, it also contains other imitation ingredients found in pure vanilla extract versions. The vanillin compound in pure vanilla beans provides a unique flavor to extracts.
90% of the Vanilla extracts in the world are synthetic. These imitation vanilla extracts do not have any nutritional benefits but may cause allergic reactions due to the different chemicals used in their making. In fact, when it comes to taste, they are nowhere close to real and natural vanilla extracts.
What are the Alternatives to Vanilla Extract if it has gone bad?
If your desserts require the goodness of vanilla extract, but the one in your refrigerator has gone bad, we recommend the following substitutes:
- Vanilla paste
- Vanilla sugar
- Vanilla powder
- Maple syrup
Is vanilla Extract the same as Vanilla essence?
No! Vanilla extract is very different as compared to Vanilla essence. Vanilla extract is manufactured using pure vanilla beans soaked in water and ethyl alcohol. Therefore, the flavor is more pronounced and strong.
In comparison, vanilla essence uses chemically produced flavors and colors. Vanilla essence may also contain additional ingredients like emulsifiers, propylene glycol, etc.
What happens if you drink vanilla extract?
Drinking vanilla extract directly can be dangerous. It is similar to alcohol intoxication. The ethyl alcohol in Vanilla extract can cause severe alcohol poisoning. It may also lead to central nervous depression and breathing difficulties. Other conditions due to consuming vanilla extract directly also include pupil dilation, indigestion, hypothermia, flushed skin, etc.
Can I use imitation vanilla instead of pure vanilla extract?
Yes! If you do not have pure vanilla extract at your dispense, you can always use imitation vanilla extract as an alternative. However, you will need to use double the quantity of imitation vanilla extract to match the original flavor of pure vanilla extract.
Additionally, consuming excess imitation vanilla extract can be dangerous as it contains artificial chemicals and flavors.
Can you get sick from expired vanilla extract?
It is highly unlikely for you to go sick by consuming expired vanilla extract. As long as the vanilla extract smells and tastes good, it is consumable.
Is 20-year-old vanilla still good?
As far as you undertake proper storage techniques, you can consume a 20-year-old vanilla extract. However, you might experience some changes in the overall taste.
Why are there black specks in your vanilla extract?
Black specks could either be little pieces of vanilla bean or vanilla pod. While it is generally safe, manufacturers add it to make their products look more qualitative.
Can vanilla extract grow mold?
While the chances of vanilla extract growing mold are less, you might notice some in the absence of proper storage techniques. However, it could also mean fatty vanillin oils that give the illusion of mold.
How long does vanilla essence last after the expiration date?
While vanilla essence can last indefinitely in the presence of proper storage techniques, its best quality in terms of aroma and taste will last for 5 years.
The Bottom Line
Vanilla extract is a to-go ingredient for several sweets and savory dishes. However, not many know that different types of vanilla extracts are available, and storing the pure varieties is easier than artificial ones.
According to us, it’s worth investing in a pure extract due to its flavor as well as its long shelf life. In fact, the flavor of pure extracts only grows stronger after years. Unless it’s an emergency, it would be advisable to use artificial vanilla essence.
Our article above enlightens you about everything you need to know about vanilla extracts. Storing them in a cool, dark place, in a tightly sealed bottle, is the best way to increase their shelf life!
Did you find our above read useful? Please tell us which is your favorite vanilla extract variant and how you prefer storing and using them through the comments section below!
Gina P. Shudnow is the brain behind all our scientific research. She is a Registered Dietitian who has been in the field for over ten years. Her nutrition tips have helped several people overcome health issues in the past. She strives to make everybody healthier without compromising on their food diet.