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How Can You Tell If Vanilla Extract Has Gone Bad

Don’t be left wondering — it’s important to know the signs of a long-gone bottle of vanilla extract so you can toss it and buy a new one! Read on to learn more about how to identify the common causes of spoilage and what you can do to keep your flavored extracts fresh for longer.

What Is Vanilla Extract, Anyway?

Vanilla extract is a liquid that contains alcohol, water, sugar or corn syrup, vanilla beans, and often other ingredients. When these ingredients are combined they create a concentrated flavor that is high in vanillin content. A typical concentration for vanilla extract is 35%.

The Problem With Vanilla Extract…

Extracts are problematic for two reasons: (1) they contain alcohol, and (2) they can develop off-flavors over time.

The alcohol in vanilla extract evaporates much more slowly than water does, so it will remain liquid even after the water has disappeared. Only when the alcohol is gone will you have to throw the extract away. Even then, the sugar and vanillin will still be present, so you won’t have to throw everything away when you toss out expired vanilla extract.

Another problem that occurs with extracts is off-flavors caused by oxidation or contamination. Oxidation results in volatile taste components becoming non-volatile due to chemical reactions with air and light. Oxidation also can cause unwanted flavors and odors.

Antioxidants are added to some extracts as a way to protect against this kind of aging. The antioxidants delay the setting in of off-flavor components, but they do not prevent them from happening at all. Part of the problem is that most extracts have less antioxidant than the label implies (e.g., a little less than their scent or flavor suggests). So even if you have an extract with a relatively high level of antioxidants, there is still a good chance that it will have off-flavors after several weeks in storage.

What Can You Do?  There are three options if you want to save some money and keep your vanilla extract fresh longer.

Try to use up the extract before it goes bad. Vanilla extract is used in many different recipes, so it makes sense to try to incorporate it into as many of your meals as possible. As you learn how much vanilla you need for each dish, you will be able to estimate how long your extract will last.

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Buy the smallest bottle possible. Extracts are more likely than other liquid foodstuffs to develop off-flavors with exposure to air and light, so less exposure helps them last longer. So buy a smaller bottle of extract if you’re worried about it going bad before you can use it all up.

Try another recipe without vanilla extract if possible . If a recipe calls for vanilla extract but you can make it without it, try using that recipe. If you are able to substitute another flavoring, you will be able to stretch the extract leading to a longer lifespan.

Buy small quantities of vanilla extract bottles when they are on sale. Sometimes, when a manufacturer is low on a bottle of vanilla extract, they will discount it and put it on sale. Buying in small quantities allows you to buy more at one time and therefore gets the best protection in your cost-per-ounce.

…And What Not to Do!

One thing you definitely should not do is to buy a counterfeit or imitation vanilla extract. This is a product that has no vanillin and will not do what you want it to do. You’ll learn more about these fake extracts in the next point.

Don’t think that imitation extracts are going to work for you, either. Imitation extracts are made with propylene glycol, water, and food coloring. They might seem like a good deal on the shelf, but they’re not at all like the real thing. Since they don’t contain any real vanilla beans (which contain delicious flavor compounds), they’ll taste much blander than your favorite brand.

6 Ways To Avoid Vanilla Extract Spoiling

Buy small quantities of vanilla extract bottles when they are on sale. Buying in small quantities allows you to buy more at one time and therefore gets the best protection in your cost-per-ounce. Use up your extract before it goes bad. Try to incorporate the stuff into as many recipes as possible so that you don’t have to buy an entire bottle just for one recipe. Buy the smallest bottle possible.

Extracts are more likely than other liquid foodstuffs such as water or tomato sauce to develop off-flavors with exposure to air and light, so less exposure helps them last longer. Try another recipe without vanilla extract if possible. If a recipe calls for vanilla extract but you can make it without it, try using that recipe. You’ll save money and keep the product fresh longer! Be sure to buy real vanilla extract.

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Don’t think that imitation extracts are going to work for you, either. Imitation extracts are made with propylene glycol, water, and food coloring. They might seem like a good deal on the shelf, but they’re not at all like the real thing. Since they don’t contain any real vanilla beans (which contain delicious flavor compounds), they’ll taste much blander than your favorite brand.

Is It Possible To Freeze Vanilla Extract

It’s not very likely. The process of breaking down the vanilla beans produces a lot of heat, so putting them in the freezer will make it too cold for them to survive. The only safe way to freeze vanilla extract is by making sure that it doesn’t freeze solid before you are ready to use it.

How Do You Know If Your Vanilla Extract Is Bad

You can tell if your extract is bad if you smell it. Some people think they can taste mistakes in their extracts, but they actually smell them instead.

Can you get sick from expired vanilla extract?

Yes, you can be sick from expired vanilla extract.

There have been numerous cases of people getting sick after consuming food or beverages that contained the toxic chemical vanillin. Vanillin is a chemical used in vanilla extract and other flavoring compounds, and these compounds are often contaminated with vanillin byproducts. These toxic byproducts can cause diarrhea, vomiting, blood-clotting issues, and flu-like symptoms .

The most common food source for vanillin contamination is artificial flavoring products such as imitation vanilla extract. Artificial flavoring products are often used to give foods an unnatural flavor or taste so that they will be more appealing to consumers.

Should vanilla extract smell like alcohol?

It’s okay if your extract smells like alcohol since the vanilla beans that are used to make vanilla extract contain a small amount of alcohol. The reason vanilla extract is not bottled in a way that it smells like alcohol is because the FDA disallows the bottling of anything with over 15% alcohol content.

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How to use up your expired vanilla extract?

You probably know that you should use up your vanilla extract before you go to buy a new one, but what do you do with old extracts when you’ve gone through most of them? Here are some ideas for what to do with your vanilla extract that may be past their expiration date: Add it to smoothies .

How long does vanilla extract last after expiration?

Vanilla extract that is past the expiration date will continue to preserve the aroma and flavor of the vanilla beans until a significant amount of the vanillin has been degraded. This degradation process can be slowed by storing your extract in a dry, dark place like a kitchen cupboard. The true expiration date for vanilla extract is typically listed on your bottle so that you can plan accordingly if you want to keep it for a long period of time.

Can vanilla extract grow mold?

Yes, vanilla extract can grow mold, but it is not uncommon for a small amount of mold to develop on an opened vanilla extract bottle due to its high sugar content. Small amounts of mold will not affect the flavor of the vanilla extract and will typically dissipate when the bottle is shaken.

What do you use instead of vanilla extract if you are allergic?

You can use any extract that is made from real fruit in place of your usual vanilla if you’re allergic. You can use fresh or dried cranberries in place of your regular vanilla, or you could even try something like almond extract to create a new flavor profile in your recipes.

Which extract is the best for baking?

Vanilla extract is the most common type of extract used in baking. There are other extracts, such as almond and orange, that can be used in place of vanilla. You can try making homemade extracts by infusing a bean with alcohol or boiling a whole bean. This will produce an extract with a unique flavor and aroma that may be different than the one you’ve been using all along.

Many people have been frightened by the thought of expiration dates on products. Many are not aware of how to properly store or use up products in a manner that will keep them fresh for a long period of time. It can be very tempting to save money every time you see an item for sale at a low price, and until you are familiar with how to properly preserve your items for future use, it is likely you will be doing just that.