Have you ever wondered how long does vanilla extract actually last, or what the shelf life of vanilla extract is? It might not be as simple as some of us would hope. There are a lot of factors to consider when buying, storing and using vanilla extract — but we’ll help you make sure you’re getting an all-natural option that won’t give your family a stomachache.
How Long Does Vanilla Extract Last: Shelf Life, Expiration Date and Storage Tips?
Vanilla extract is an all American product and has become a very popular flavor in the U.S. since 1846. Overseas, it’s a very old flavor and has been used for hundreds of years in many different countries around the world. So how long does vanilla extract last? The shelf life of vanilla extract depends on if you buy the clear bottled version that does not have any added color or artificial ingredients, or if you buy a store brand variety with added corn syrup, artificial flavor and artificial colorings. The clear vanilla extract usually only contains alcohol, vanilla beans, water and sugar. This is true for most reputable brands that offer an all-natural product.
The shelf life of vanilla extract is 2 years for most clear bottles. What does this mean? An opened bottle of vanilla extract will last 2 years (or 364 days) and will only start to go bad on its expiration date — the day when you would buy more vanilla extract if you hadn’t used it all. You can check the label to see if it has an expiration date, but don’t worry — you’ll know when it is time to go shopping because your bottle will turn cloudy and moldy. The “shelf life” that I am referring to here is the time that vanilla extract holds flavor, not its freshness or quality as a product.
The original idea behind the invention of vanilla extract came from an Aztec emperor’s wife named Princess Xochitl. She was trying to create a potion that would flavor her chocolate drink. Instead, she tasted the world’s first vanilla extract. It took about two decades for a Spanish conquistador to bring vanilla beans to Europe in 1518 so they could grow and use it at a commercial level, but it was also another 50 years later before it became popular in the U.S., during the time when Thomas Jefferson was president.
The modern vanilla extract you’ll find in most of the grocery stores here in the U.S., however, is an industrial use product. It’s very clear and has a lot of artificial coloring and preservatives added to it. The idea is to make it look good so that you’ll buy it, but the truth is that it’s no better than any other commercial vanilla extract.
Most of the homemade vanilla extracts are almost completely natural and have no flavoring ingredients or artificial coloring at all.
How do you know if vanilla extract has gone bad?
A lot of people worry that they’ll buy vanilla extract and it will go bad before they can use it. The shelf life of natural extracts is typically 2 years or more, which is much shorter than the typical shelf life of commercial vanilla extract. Since the shelf life of commercial products varies so much, I’m not going to try to guess an exact expiration date for you. However, I have never seen a bad batch at home, so maybe there are others out there who’ve had this happen to them too. It’s likely that you will see changes in your clear vanilla extract as you start using it more regularly — this is to be expected.
The most common way to tell if your vanilla extract has gone bad is if it has turned grey, brown or black, or started to mold. If you see any discoloration in your vanilla extract, throw it away immediately and buy a new bottle.
How do you store vanilla extract?
Here are some tips:
Store clear vanilla extract in a dark and cool place. The ideal temperature would be between 64-84 degrees Fahrenheit (18-28 degrees Celsius). The dark color of the vanilla bean helps it keep its flavor and discoloration, so don’t store your bottles in clear glass jars where you can see through them.
Store homemade extracts in colored bottles like dark brown glass jars or amber glass bottles.
How long does vanilla extract last in the refrigerator?
You can store your homemade vanilla extract in the refrigerator for up to a year (as long as you keep it dark and cool). You can store it in the opaque colored bottles or amber glass bottles that you buy with your extracts. You could also store your flavoring in an opaque container with a little water in it like a tea ball canister or the top of an empty hand soap bottle.
How long does vanilla extract last in the freezer?
You can store homemade pure vanilla extract for up to two years in the freezer. If you have a large batch stored, it might be wise to freeze smaller amounts of vanilla extract separately so they don’t take up as much space. Keep your extracts sealed and away from direct heat sources as they will melt when frozen. If a frozen vanilla extract bottle is damaged, you can still use it to cook with. It just won’t remain clear and bright anymore.
To thaw: Place the bottle in a refrigerator overnight or place the sealed glass container in a cool water bath. I would recommend putting it in warm water, as you probably don’t want to take the chance of freeing any alcohol that may be trapped inside your extracts.
If you want to freeze your vanilla extract for longer than two years, transfer it into smaller containers and store them in your freezer. This will help reduce the amount of space they take up so that all of your flavoring is not spread out so much.
Why do I need to use vanilla extract?
Of course it is a personal preference, but I can’t think of a food that wouldn’t taste better with a touch of vanilla. Try it — you will probably be surprised. For example, I personally love the flavor of vanilla in winter time when baking cookies and desserts with spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Vanilla is also great in coffee, oatmeal, ice cream and more. Vanilla extract helps flavor foods without adding extra fat or sugar to them. Most commercial brands add sweeteners to their extracts so they have an artificial taste that doesn’t really have much to do with the real thing. The natural extracts are much smoother and less sweet.
There are also many health benefits to using vanilla extract. Vanilla beans are rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that can combat the effects of aging, boost your immune system, reduce the risk of heart disease, and help you fight cancer.
It’s simple to make your own pure vanilla extract at home with just a few ingredients, and it’s much cheaper than buying it in stores or online. I recommend using a high-quality vodka that contains as little added flavors or additives as possible. It’s also very important to use fresh beans that have been dried in a low heat environment for long-term storage. This helps to preserve the flavor of your extract.
You can buy pure vanilla extract in glass bottles, but I would recommend using amber glass jars. Amber glass is resistant to heat and also provides a nice deep color that won’t turn brown over time. Since pure vanilla extract contains only three ingredients (vanilla beans, ethanol , and water), it is completely natural and doesn’t have any added artificial flavors or preservatives — the alcohol acts as a preservative in this case, so you have to make sure that the bottle that you are using is fully sealed.
Where can I buy vanilla beans?
Vanilla beans are available year-round at most grocery stores in glass jars from produce departments. They are usually found in the spice section. You can also buy them online at Amazon or a variety of different retailers.
You can now also find vanilla beans in most Mexican grocery stores, especially around holidays like Cinco de Mayo and Christmas. These are likely to be fresh — look for the dark brown ones that don’t look shriveled up yet.
If you buy whole vanilla beans, you will need to slice them down the middle and scrape out the seeds into pure vanilla extract before storing them away. This will help preserve your brew for longer and add a deeper flavor to your foods.
Pure vanilla extract is the best option, as it has no artificial ingredients and doesn’t contain any added sugar, alcohol or preservatives. You can buy it in several commercial brands at stores like Whole Foods, but I would highly recommend using an amber glass bottle instead of a clear glass one. This will help protect the color of your extract from turning brown over time.
Making your own pure vanilla extract is so easy and much cheaper than buying it in stores. The recipe calls for one whole vanilla bean with its seeds, but you can also get a larger bottle of extracts that has already been made by adding more beans to the whole Pour Over Bean recipe that I have linked below. If you use this method, you will have enough vanilla beans to last for several years.
If you decide to buy pure vanilla extract that already has beans in it, make sure that it is as natural and as alcohol-free as possible. It is definitely better to use pure vanilla extract instead of any bottled or canned extracts, unless the bottle says it is alcohol-free.