You may have heard about apple cider vinegar and the many ways it could benefit your health and overall livelihood.
However, we all know that keeping up daily routines can be difficult. Whether it’s exercising or trying to lose weight, sometimes life just gets in the way.
Perhaps you stored some apple cider vinegar a few years ago and forgot about it, leaving it to collect dust in the back of your pantry. Like most food products in your kitchen, the bottle of vinegar may have an expiration date indicating that it has lived past its shelf life.
Your first reaction may be to throw it 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 decipher what it is and how it’s made.
What is Apple Cider Vinegar?
Essentially, apple cider vinegar is a vinegar that is 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.
Commonly abbreviated to ACV, this popular vinegar is a versatile pantry staple with an endless assortment of purported health benefits, including stabilizing blood sugar, lowering blood pressure, killing E. coli and accelerating weight loss.
As an all-natural and cost-effective ingredient, this apple-based vinegar has a mild taste that can be mixed with olive oil and maple syrup for the perfect salad dressing. Or, it can be diluted and incorporated into your self-care routine as a DIY face toner or pH-balancing hair rinse. Around the house, apple cider vinegar can make effective all-natural cleaners for just about everything.
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. You open it and it smells, well, as pungent as it always had.
Has it gone bad? How can you tell? To answer that question, let’s take a look at how this vinegar made.
How Is Apple Cider Vinegar Made?
Apple cider comes from mashed up apples. It can be pasteurized and filtered into golden, pure apple juice, or be left as raw, hazy apple cider. If the cider is allowed to ferment, then yeast converts some of the juice sugars into alcohol, a process that can take one to six months and will result in the boozy cider we all know and love.
Typically, apple cider contains 1% to 8% alcohol. To transform apple cider into apple cider vinegar, a second fermentation process converts the alcohol to vinegar with acetobacter, a type of good bacteria that turns alcohol into acetic acid, providing the vinegar with its characteristic sour, acidic quality.
Can Apple Cider Vinegar Go Bad?
While the look, smell, and flavor of apple cider vinegar can change over time, its shelf life is indefinite, according to studies conducted by the Vinegar Institute. Even though some jars have listed expiration dates ranging between two to five years, apple cider vinegar is still seen as safe to consume after the expiration date.
According to a 2017 study, fermented foods and beverages are known to be safer than unfermented counterparts. Due to its acidic level and the fermentation process, common bad bacteria such as salmonella, e. Coli, or staphylococcus aureus can only survive a few hours in the acidity of apple cider and can’t multiply. In fact, some experts believe that the ongoing fermentation process means that the vinegar could become even safer once it surpasses its expiration date.
The fermentation process produces a substance called the “mother,” which is included in high-quality bottles of apple cider vinegar. While it looks like a gross, stringy mucus or phlegm that settles at the bottom of the jar, the “mother” is actually composed of probiotics. It is one of the healthiest benefits of this vinegar. (If you’ve ever looked into the health benefits of kombucha, you know that the “mother” of kombucha is super healthy too!)
Because it can grow within 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 the “mother” from forming. Don’t worry, though. This change in appearance is perfectly safe. It’s recommended to give your bottle a shake to redistribute the “mother” evenly throughout the vinegar.
We’ve established that apple cider vinegar remains safe to use even after the expiration date, but it’s still important to properly store it to retain the highest quality for an extended period of time.
How to Properly Store Apple Cider Vinegar
Although apple cider vinegar has a relatively indefinite shelf life, it’s still important to store it in the proper setting after use. You don’t need to worry about putting it in the refrigerator after opening it, but it should be placed in a cool, dry place away from sunlight and heat.
Make sure you tightly twist the cap closed after using your vinegar. While refrigeration is not necessary, you can still store it there if you prefer your vinegar chilled.
When you store apple cider vinegar in the right conditions, it should retain its quality for about two years. But remember, it should still be safe to consume even when it loses that freshness.
So, Can I Consume That Years-Old Bottle of Apple Cider Vinegar?
If you have an old bottle of apple cider vinegar collecting dust on your shelf, don’t worry too much. It should be safe to consume. However, keep in mind that the vinegar will likely taste a lot more acidic than a freshly-bought bottle. If you don’t like the taste of older apple cider vinegar, you can always use it for cleaning purposes instead. One thing’s for sure though — there’s no reason to throw that bottle away!
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