It’s been almost impossible to avoid the growing, glowing hubbub surrounding apple cider vinegar (ACV) and the many ways it can benefit your health and wellness.
ACV is one of the items in our pantries, in our refrigerators and on our shelves which provide a wealth of health benefits. Most won’t be good forever, but we rarely think about that. Keeping up regular routines can be difficult, whether it’s exercising, vacuuming, or cleaning out the cabinets.
Perhaps you bought a bottle of apple cider vinegar on Amazon a few years ago and forgot about it, leaving it to collect dust in the back of your pantry (next to other vinegar products like white vinegar and balsamic vinegar). And like most of the condiments in your kitchen, the bottle of vinegar may have a printed expiration date indicating that it’s well past its recommended shelf life.
Your first reaction is probably to throw expired apple cider vinegar away. But wait! That vinegar might still be perfectly fine for you to consume or use.
To properly explain how long apple cider vinegar lasts, we must first understand what it is and how it’s made.
What is Apple Cider Vinegar?
Essentially, apple cider vinegar is vinegar made from fermented apple cider. It’s known to have a highly acidic flavor, and is commonly used as an ingredient in salad dressings, marinades, food preservatives and chutneys. It’s also great for pickling vegetables.
This versatile pantry staple provides an endless assortment of purported health benefits, including stabilizing blood sugar, lowering blood pressure, killing E. coli bacteria and accelerating weight loss.
As an all-natural and cost-effective ingredient, apple-based vinegar has a mild taste that can be mixed with olive oil and maple syrup to create the perfect salad dressing. It can be diluted and incorporated into your self-care routine as a DIY face toner or pH-balancing hair rinse. And apple cider vinegar can make effective all-natural cleaners for just about everything around the house.
Over time, if you forget to use your apple cider vinegar, the liquid becomes cloudy and there’s rust-colored sediment at the bottom of the bottle. But when you open it, it simply smells as pungent as it always has.
Has it gone bad? How can you tell? To answer that question, let’s take a look at how this vinegar is produced.
How Is Apple Cider Vinegar Made?
Apple cider is one of the products that can be created from mashed-up apples. It can be pasteurized and filtered into pure golden apple juice, or left as raw, hazy apple cider. If the cider is allowed to ferment, yeast converts some of its sugars into alcohol. That process can take one to six months, and will produce the boozy cider (or applejack) that many of us revere.
Typically, apple cider contains 1% to 8% alcohol, and it’s transformed into apple cider vinegar via a second fermentation process. That converts the alcohol to vinegar containing acetobacter, a type of good bacteria which turns alcohol into acetic acid; acetic acid is what provides the vinegar with its characteristic sour, acidic quality.
How Long Does Apple Cider Vinegar Last?
While the look, smell, and flavor of ACV can change over time, studies conducted by the Vinegar Institute show that the shelf life of apple cider vinegar is nearly indefinite. Some jars list expiration dates ranging between two and five years, but apple cider vinegar is almost always safe to consume after the expiration date.
Here’s why. According to a 2017 study, fermented foods and beverages are known to be safer than their unfermented counterparts because they’re “self-preserving.” The acidity created by vinegar’s fermentation process creates an environment where common bad bacteria such as salmonella, E. Coli, or staphylococcus aureus can only survive a few hours, not long enough to multiply. In fact, some experts believe that the ongoing fermentation process means that apple cider vinegar could become even safer once it passes its expiration date.
The fermentation process produces a substance called the “mother,” which is included in high-quality bottles of apple cider vinegar. (Bragg ACV is generally considered the best quality product available.) It may look like a gross, stringy mucus or phlegm has settled at the bottom of an ACV jar, but that’s the “mother,” and it’s actually composed of probiotics – making it one of the healthiest elements of the vinegar. (If you’ve ever looked into the health benefits of kombucha, you know that the “mother” of kombucha is super healthy, too.)
Because the mother grows naturally in a bottle of apple cider vinegar and has a hazy, unpleasant appearance, a lot of apple cider vinegar manufacturers actually pasteurize their vinegar to prevent it from forming. Don’t worry about the mother, though; this change in appearance is perfectly safe. Just give your bottle an occasional shake to redistribute the “mother” evenly throughout the vinegar. That will maintain the ACV’s quality.
When choosing an apple cider vinegar, in fact, skip the pasteurized varieties and go right for the raw ACV that still contains the mother. It’s the one with all the health benefits.
We’ve established that expired apple cider vinegar remains safe to use even after the expiration date, but it’s still important to properly store it. That allows the ACV to retain its full quality for an extended period of time.
Does Apple Cider Go Bad If Not Refrigerated?
No. You don’t need to worry about putting apple cider vinegar in the refrigerator after opening it, but it should be placed in a cool, dry, dark place and should always be kept away from direct sunlight and heat.
How to Properly Store Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has a relatively indefinite shelf life. However, it’s still important to store it the right way after you’ve opened the bottle.
Make sure you tightly twist the cap closed after using your vinegar. That will not only maintain the effectiveness of the mother, but will prevent contaminants from getting inside. Refrigeration is not necessary, as we’ve mentioned, but you can still keep ACV in the fridge if you prefer your vinegar chilled.
When you store apple cider vinegar in the right conditions, it will retain its quality for years. And it should still be safe to consume even if it’s lost its original taste and aroma.
So, Can I Consume That Years-Old Bottle of Apple Cider Vinegar?
If you have a bottle of expired apple cider vinegar collecting dust on your shelf, don’t worry too much. It should be safe to use in the kitchen, although it will probably taste a lot more acidic than it did when you first bought it.
But there’s rarely a reason to toss an old bottle of ACV. If you don’t like the taste of expired apple cider vinegar, use it for cleaning purposes instead. It’s still one of the healthiest products on your shelf!
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