Does Balsamic Vinegar Go Bad? Here is everything you need to know:
Do You Need To Throw Out Your Balsamic Vinegar?
With uses ranging from a dip for your bread to a dressing on your salad to a seasoning for your steak, balsamic vinegar is something of a universally-beloved kitchen essential for casual cooks and professional chefs alike.
Cherished for its unique tang and its rich Italian history, this unique meal staple can be found in the homes of anyone who knows a thing or two about cooking. There’s just one question, though: does balsamic vinegar go bad? Honestly, it depends on your definition of bad.
Perhaps a little history lesson will make things more clear.
Balsamic’s Italian Ancestry
Despite what you might assume based on the name, balsamic vinegar doesn’t actually contain any balsam. A pungent resin from trees and shrubs, balsam is a common ingredient used in hand balms and other cosmetic products — not to be combined with vinegar for a delicious sauce. The deep purple color actually comes from grapes.
Specifically, balsamic vinegar is a combination of a vinegar base and grape must — that’s the seeds, the skins, and the stems of grapes all mushed together in a gigantic vat. Combine the sweet flavor of a grape with the acidic bite of vinegar and you end up with balsamic.
While many might think there’s just one kind of balsamic vinegar, there are actually three: Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, abbreviated as TBV, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia, and Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, abbreviated BVM. While there’s not much of a difference to the untrained eye, most can tell the difference based purely on taste.
For starters, TBV is much more expensive than BVM and has a far more complex process that goes into the making of the balsamic. On top of this, balsamic from Modena and Reggio Emilia have all kinds of strict legal guidelines that must be followed in order to keep their classification — a process that involves aging, barrels, fermentation, and all sorts of other restrictions.
Still, the question remains: can it spoil?
Balsamic Vinegar’s Shelf Life
When you buy a tall, skinny bottle of balsamic vinegar, there’s always that question that runs through your mind: how much of this is going to go to waste? Because of its distinct and domineering flavor, a little bit of the stuff goes quite a long way. You only need a splash of balsamic to make an impact, which means that — unless you’re using it daily or even weekly — that bottle of vinegar is going to be sitting in the pantry for a while.
There’s no need to worry, though: because of the extensive fermentation process, balsamic vinegar can technically last forever. It will never truly “go bad” in the traditional sense — it won’t make you sick if your bottle of balsamic is one, two, even three years old. However, balsamic vinegar isn’t indestructible.
Just because it isn’t going to make you sick doesn’t mean it’s going to taste good. There are certain steps you need to take in order to preserve the quality of your bottle of balsamic vinegar.
Step One: Types Of Vinegar
It almost goes without saying that a more expensive kind of balsamic is going to have a different shelf life than the much cheaper Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.
Both Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena and Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Reggio Emilia are protected under a classification called Designation of Origin (abbreviated DOP). This means that there’s an extensive manufacturing technique to the making of the balsamic. BVM isn’t like this. It’s typically made with grapes instead of grape must and wine vinegar instead of plain ol’ vinegar. This automatically gives the DOPs a longer shelf life than BVM.
Step Two: Storage
Keeping your bottle of balsamic vinegar on the counter, out there in the middle of the open with the sun beating down on it, is a surefire way to ensure you won’t be able to preserve its flavor for very long. The key is to keep it stored in a cool, dark place — not out on the table like you’d see in an Italian restaurant.
A spice cabinet or a pantry with a door will both suffice — either one of these locations provides the right room temperature and the proper lack of light needed to keep the flavor of the balsamic preserved for longer.
As a matter of fact, this is another factor that separates TBV from BVM: Traditional Balsamic Vinegar, if stored correctly, will only get finer and more flavorful with age. BVM continues to degrade in quality from the moment it’s opened.
Step Three: Use Your Nose
While balsamic has a decades-long shelf life by design, there are some scenarios where the vinegar could become contaminated and the liquid needs to be thrown out.
If you’re doubting the quality of your TBV or your BVM, open up the bottle and give it a whiff. If it’s off, throw it out. If you’re still not sure, put a little dab on your finger and give it a taste. If it’s off, throw it out.
A common myth is that a cloudy balsamic is no longer good. This is incorrect — as long as it smells okay and still tastes good, a cloudy balsamic is a perfectly fine balsamic.
The Bottom Line: Is My Balsamic Vinegar Still Good?
At the end of the day, you can bet that your bottle of balsamic is going to be good as long as it’s less than three years old.
Once you pass the three-year mark, BVM will begin to decline in quality while TBV will begin its decades-long increase in quality. Some have even claimed they’ve held onto a bottle for upwards of 25 years.