Vinegar Shelf life : how can vinegar get bad if it's not been opened?

Tarragon Vinegar

papa rocky


Nate D. January 12, 2015
No issues with safety, only quality. I haven't worked with this kind of vinegar before, but can tell you how microbes behave. Generally high acid foods are a lower safety risk.
Sam1148 January 10, 2015
Now is the time to check the bargain bins for beaujolais nouveau and sparkling wine.

beaujolais nouveau WANTS to be vinegar, even the off the shelf stuff turns into vinegar after a few months. Just open it give it some air (IE: drink a glass or put it in a stew). and then plug the bottle with a paper towel. In a few months you'll have vinegar.

If you've lucky enough to have a bottle of vinegar that's developed a "Mother" (A big blob of snot looking stuff) That's gold.
A bit of that with wine/sparkling or white will turn it into vinegar in a few months.

But I'll make the same warning as up thread: If it has herbs or things like garlic in it...toss it.

The bacteria that hitchhikes on garlic and herbs can be nasty when stored in a oxygen free a jar or oil or vinegar.

Bacteria that makes vinegar is happy fun stuff...if it's just's immortal.

trampledbygeese January 10, 2015
Can you describe the badness? How does it smell?

Vinegar is a ferment that uses yeast and beneficial bacteria to transform sugars/alcohols into acid (totally oversimplifying, but it gives you the gist of it). In unpasteurized vinegar, you can usually see this community of invisible beasties because they create a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) or Mother (which is the traditional word for it). A great example of this is the rubbery 'mushroom' used to make Kombucha, or the brown sludge in the bottom of apple cider vinegar (keep in mind, I've deliberately oversimplified this before you start correcting me about dead yeast bodies - thats a topic for another time).

If the ratio of yeast to bacteria is unbalanced, due to extreme temperature conditions for example, then the result isn't necessarily going to be vinegar, so it could be a fault in the fermenting process. Yeast makes alcohol and gas, bacteria makes acid... too much of one, not enough of the other... well you get the idea.

In unpasteurized vinegar, especially ones exposed to air, the invisible beasties (especially air loving yeast) continue to eat up the food even after the liquid has turned to vinegar. This usually gives it a weak, almost watery taste, but can also be unpleasant depending on which invisible beastie took over.

One of the dangers of pasteurized vinegar, is that it kills off the beneficial invisible beasties and if the vinegar isn't acidic enough, it can allow undesired invisible beasties to flourish. There are some, not many mind you, but a tiny amount, of undesirable invisible beasties that can flourish in acid environments. A contaminant on the herb perhaps, or an error in the bottle cleaning method can cause this.

There are several other things that can go wrong, but these are the main ones. They don't happen very often, as vinegar is pretty foolproof, but they can happen. Might be able to tell you more if you can describe the smell. If it smells off though, please don't tase any.
papa R. January 10, 2015
The date on the bottle was 2008 but it has not been opened
Meaghan F. January 10, 2015
So just to clarify, you are presuming it's bad based on the date stamped on the bottle? The good news is that many "best-by" dates are completely arbitrary, so there's a *chance* it may still be usable. I say open it and, using some of the great info posted in this thread, make a decision for yourself.
ChefJune January 10, 2015
not sure, BUT... if it's organic, it has a "mother" in it. I don't think it goes bad, but you'll probably have to strain the mother out to use it. If it has a mother, and if it was stored in a warm environment, I'm thinking the end result might not be very desirable. Tell us a bit about how it looks.
ChefJune January 10, 2015
Just realized you're asking about Tarragon Vinegar. There could have been some bad bacteria on the tarragon before it was put into the vinegar. Again, I think the results would depend upon how/where it was stored.
Susan W. January 10, 2015
What you are saying is only true of raw vinears, not so of most organic vinegars.
trampledbygeese January 10, 2015
Hi Susan,

Could you clarify what you mean by 'raw' and 'organic' for the purpose of talking vinegar?
ktr January 10, 2015
I believe what Susan is saying is that not all organic vinegars are live. Organic vinegar is made with organic fruit that is fermented. Live vinegars contain a "mother" that can be used to start another batch of vinegar. The bacteria in a live vinegar is just that - alive, so the vinegar can continue to ferment over time.
Susan W. January 10, 2015
Thank you KTR. That is exactly what I meant. Here in Oregon, it's quite easy to find organic vinegars, but not so easy to find unpasteurized vinegars. I buy Dr Bonners Organic Raw Vinegar. I also buy Napa Naturals Balsamic vinegar. It's organic, but not raw. Clear as mud? Good. :)
trampledbygeese January 10, 2015
Thanks for the clarification. I was confused because it looked like they were being used as exclusive terms - ie they can't be one if they are the other.

Raw can be organic, or not, organic can be raw or not... have I got your meaning right? Raw also being called live or unpasteurized in this conversation.
ktr January 10, 2015
You've got it!
Susan W. January 10, 2015
TBG..No, not what I meant. My Braggs apple cider vinegar (I called it Dr Bonners earlier by mistake) says organic, raw, unfiltered, unpasteurized, with the mother. Mr and Mrs Bragg covered their bases. I also noticed the company is 103 years old.

I wonder if it's possible to make a new batch of vinegar with it. That would be fun and seems as though it would work. It's how I make kombucha. I just buy a bottle of GT's and feed it sugar and tea. In no time, I have a SCOBY. In fact, one time I left my kombucha fermenting too long and it was too vinegary to drink.
trampledbygeese January 10, 2015
You can make vinegar using the mother from Braggs vinegar. Off the top of my head, I think that the book you want is Wild Fermentation by Katz. He's got a chapter on it.
ktr January 13, 2015
You absolutely can make a new batch using the old mother.
Susan W. January 10, 2015
It can't. Why do you ask,?
Susan W. January 10, 2015
I should qualify that statement. If the vinegar is properly sealed and stored, it won't go bad.
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