How do I know if balsamic vinegar is bad?

Quick Answers

Balsamic vinegar has a long shelf life and may last for several years if stored properly. However, there are a few signs that can indicate balsamic vinegar has gone bad:

– Changes in color – Balsamic vinegar should be a rich, dark brown. If it lightens or changes color, it may be expired.

– Changes in texture – Properly aged balsamic vinegar has a thick, syrupy consistency. If it becomes thin or watery, it has likely gone bad.

– Changes in smell – Balsamic vinegar has a sweet, tangy smell when fresh. An off or sour odor means it’s time to toss it.

– Mold growth – Any mold or cloudiness means the vinegar is spoiled.

– Crystallization – Tiny crystals may form as balsamic ages but larger gritty crystals or sediment indicate it is past its prime.

As long as it has been stored properly and shows no signs of spoilage, unopened balsamic vinegar can last for several years past its printed expiration date. An opened bottle will keep for 1-2 years in the pantry. Refrigerating balsamic vinegar can extend its shelf life.

How Long Does Balsamic Vinegar Last?

The shelf life of balsamic vinegar depends on several factors:

Type of Balsamic Vinegar

There are three main types of balsamic vinegar:

– *Traditional Balsamic Vinegar* – This is the highest quality type that has been aged for 12+ years in wooden barrels. It can last for decades, even when opened.

– *Condimento or Commercial Balsamic* – The moderately priced kind aged for 1-3 years. Unopened, it will last 5+ years. Once opened, it keeps 1-2 years.

– *Balsamic Vinegar of Modena* – This lower quality imitation is aged for just 60 days. Unopened it lasts 2-3 years. Opened it should be used within 1 year.

Storage Method

How the opened or unopened balsamic vinegar is stored also affects its shelf life:

– *Pantry* – If stored unopened in a cool, dark pantry, balsamic vinegar will last for years past its best by date. An opened bottle keeps for 1-2 years.

– *Fridge* – Refrigerating balsamic vinegar extends its shelf life, especially if opened. It will last for 3-5 years when kept sealed in the fridge.

– *Freezer* – Storing balsamic vinegar in the freezer prevents any mold growth and essentially stops the aging process. It will last indefinitely frozen.

Bottle Size

Smaller bottles of balsamic vinegar lose quality faster after opening than larger sizes:

– 50 ml bottle – Use within 3-4 months
– 250 ml bottle – Use within 8-12 months
– 500 ml bottle – Use within 18-24 months
– 1 liter bottle – Use within 2-3 years

So a large bottle kept in the fridge or pantry can last several years. But a small 50 ml bottle may only last a few months at room temperature after opening.

Production Date

Always check the ‘best by’ or production date on the label. An unopened bottle should last:

– *Traditional Balsamic* – Decades past the date, since it improves with age
– *Commercial Balsamic* – 5-10 years past the date
– *Balsamic of Modena* – 2-3 years past the date

Once opened, these times are reduced by about half. So consume opened bottles within 6 months to 2 years for best flavor.

How to Tell If Balsamic Vinegar is Bad

Watch for these signs that your balsamic vinegar has expired or gone bad:

1. Changes in Color

Fresh balsamic vinegar is a rich, deep brown color. It may darken slightly as it ages but should never lighten. If your balsamic vinegar begins changing to a caramel, light brown, or tan color, it has likely gone bad.

2. Changes in Texture

High quality aged balsamic vinegar has a thick, syrupy texture. If your balsamic vinegar seems thin or watery instead of luxuriously viscous, its quality has diminished and it should be discarded.

3. Changes in Smell

When first opened, balsamic vinegar will have a sweet aroma with notes of aged wood from the barrels. It may smell slightly acidic or tart too. If your balsamic smells off, fermented, or develops a strong acid stench, it is past its prime.

4. Mold Growth

Like any vinegar, balsamic vinegar is prone to mold growth when old. Check the bottle closely. If you see any cobwebs, cloudiness, white film, or slimy sediment, toss the balsamic vinegar.

5. Crystallization

As traditional balsamic ages, it naturally concentrates and some sediment and tiny sugar crystals may form at the bottom of the bottle. This tartrate crystallization is normal for aged varieties like traditional balsamic. However, widespread crystallization, large crystals, or grittiness throughout means it is expired.

6. Expired Production Date

Check the best by date or production date printed on the label. Unopened, balsamic vinegar can last for years past this date. But if your opened bottle is more than 2 years past the date, it is likely time to replace it with a fresh bottle.

7. Exposure to Heat or Sunlight

Balsamic vinegar can develop defects like a concentrated, sweet flavor or caramelized notes if left out on the counter exposed to sunlight or heat. So if it wasn’t stored in a cool, dark place like the fridge or pantry, it may be bad.

Taste Test

If you are unsure based on appearance, aroma, or age alone, do a taste test:

– Sample a small sip of the balsamic vinegar (but never directly from the bottle!)

– It should taste sweet yet tangy and acidic, with a complex flavor and notes of oak from the aging barrels

– It should not taste flat, overly sweet, too acidic, or have an off-flavor

– If anything tastes ‘off’ or fermented, spit it out and throw away the balsamic vinegar

– An excellent balsamic vinegar will have a pleasant viscosity and smoothness too

Trust your senses – if it looks, smells or tastes bad then it has likely spoiled. When in doubt, throw it out.

What Causes Balsamic Vinegar to Go Bad?

There are a few common reasons why balsamic vinegar spoils:


Exposure to oxygen can cause the flavor and aroma compounds in balsamic vinegar to deteriorate over time. Keeping it sealed inhibits oxidation.

Yeast or Bacteria

Like any vinegar, balsamic vinegar isn’t completely resistant to microbial growth. Yeasts, mold, or acetic acid bacteria may contaminate the vinegar if left for too long.

Temperature Fluctuations

Heat and sunlight degrade balsamic vinegar quickly. So storage in a stable environment away from temperature extremes maximizes shelf life.

Sugar Crystallization

The natural sugars in balsamic can crystallize into grainy sediment as it ages. If crystallization is excessive, flavor suffers.


As balsamic vinegar ages, it slowly evaporates inside the bottle, becoming more concentrated and syrupy. Excess evaporation negatively impacts flavor.

How to Store Balsamic Vinegar

Follow these tips to extend the shelf life of your balsamic vinegar:

– Store bottles in a cool, dark pantry or cupboard away from heat sources or sunlight. A root cellar provides excellent conditions.

– Refrigerating opened balsamic vinegar helps it last longer – just bring it to room temp before use.

– Keep vinegars away from other pungent foods in the fridge so it doesn’t absorb other odors.

– Transfer smaller amounts to a cruet or condiment bottle for easy use. Keep the original tightly sealed.

– Never return unused vinegar from cruets back into the original bottle.

– Wipe clean and dry bottle rims and caps after each use to prevent sticky drips that can attract insects.

– Make sure bottles are tightly sealed to limit oxygen exposure.

– Traditional balsamic can be aged for decades, but consume commercial types within 2 years for best flavor.

How to Clean Balsamic Vinegar Bottles

Reusing empty balsamic vinegar bottles is environmentally friendly and can help keep costs down. Here’s how to clean and sanitize them for reuse:

1. Rinse any remaining vinegar residue from the bottle immediately after emptying. Let soak if needed to loosen.

2. Wash bottle and cap thoroughly with hot soapy water and a bottle brush. This removes any remaining traces.

3. Rinse bottle and cap with clean hot water and be sure to eliminate any soap residue that can affect taste.

4. Sanitize using vinegar – fill bottle with white vinegar and let soak for 10 minutes, then rinse well. Vinegar kills germs.

5. Or sanitize using heat – carefully wash bottle in the dishwasher or hand wash with very hot water.

6. Remove labels if desired and allow bottles to air dry fully upside down on a dish rack before reuse.

7. Before refilling, inspect thoroughly for any mold, cracks, or damage that could affect sanitation.

Proper cleaning and sanitizing eliminates bacteria and preserves the flavor of your homemade vinegar, oil, or other products. Never reuse bottles that contained non-food items.

Other Ways to Use Up Balsamic Vinegar

Don’t throw away expired or oxidized balsamic vinegar! You can extend its usefulness and get creative in the kitchen with these ideas:

– *Deglazing pans* – Use it to lift up browned bits after cooking meat or vegetables.

– *Vinaigrettes* – Jazz up basic vinaigrettes with a splash of balsamic for a tangy accent.

– *Marinades* – Inject a pop of sweet-tart flavor into chicken, beef, or veggie marinades.

– *Glazes* – Reduce balsamic into a thick glaze to top grilled or roasted vegetables.

– *Roasted fruit* – Drizzle over strawberries, peaches, pears, or figs before roasting.

– *Sauces* – Simmer into a sauce for pork chops, duck, or game meats.

– *Dessert topping* – Lightly drizzle over fruit, sorbet, chocolate truffles, or ice cream.

– *Dressings and dips* – Whisk with oil, garlic, herbs for bold dressings and veggie dips.

– *Pickling* – Splash into pickle brines in place of other vinegars.

Don’t let old balsamic vinegar go to waste. With a little creativity, you can use up bottles that are past their prime.


Thanks to its high acidity and antibacterial properties, balsamic vinegar has a long shelf life compared to other vinegar types. An unopened bottle stored properly may last for several years. Once opened, balsamic vinegar will stay good for 1-2 years if kept refrigerated.

Watch for changes in color, texture, sediment, crystallization, or smell that signal balsamic has spoiled. Any off or moldy aromas, bottle cloudiness, or gritty texture means it should be discarded. Trust your senses – if the taste is noticeably diminished or ‘off’, it is past its prime.

Storing opened balsamic vinegar in the fridge and keeping bottles tightly sealed helps maximize freshness. And there are plenty of ways to use up portions that have oxidized or gone ‘off’ in marinades, sauces, glazes, and dressings. With proper storage and handling, balsamic vinegar can add its signature sweet-tart flair to dishes for years to come.

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