Balsamic vinegar is one of the most versatile and delectable kitchen staples, but it’s so powerful that you rarely need all that much of it, meaning that one small bottle you bought could potentially be hanging around for a long, long time.
Of course, this isn’t exactly a bad thing, as it means we’re getting great bang for our buck, but it does beg the question, how long does this tasty black liquid last?
It does have an air of immortality about it, but is that a perceived notion rather than actual?
Let’s find out!
Does Balsamic Vinegar Have A Shelf Life?
Even though that ancient “bottle of bal” you’ve got hiding in one of your kitchen cupboards seems to be no different from the day you bought it, technically speaking, it does have a shelf life.
The good news is that it’s probably the heftiest shelf life you’ve ever heard of.
If you take a closer look at the bottle you should see the expiration date somewhere.
For the bog-standard commercially available balsamic, shelf life can range from 2 to 5 years, but for the good stuff with a price tag that could bring tears to your eyes, it’s a different story entirely.
The Shelf Life Of Quality Balsamic Vinegar
The easiest way to explain the shelf life of balsamic vinegar is that it follows “wine rules”.
Much like wine, it tends to mature and get better with age, but, again, like wine, the quality of the product has a seismic impact on its lifespan.
Granted, all wines have a beefy shelf life because their acidity facilitates self-preservation; however, finely made wine can be enjoyed decades after bottling, while lesser quality examples will start to go a little funky at an accelerated rate.
The same exact principles apply to balsamic vinegar. Boasting high acidity, they maintain flavor and form exquisitely, but the lower the quality, the quicker they’ll eventually give up the ghost.
High quality balsamic vinegar can last a remarkably long time, evidenced by an interesting fact about its history…
It’s said that in the Emilia Romagna region of 18th century Italy, mothers would craft bottles of balsamic vinegar shortly after their daughters were born.
Then the vinegar would be left to mature until their daughters were wed. The balsamic was then gifted to the happy couple on their special day.
So, historically speaking, a bottle of top-notch balsamic vinegar would last for 20 years plus, and that’s before it even sees its first use.
How Important Is The Expiration Date On Bottles Of Balsamic Vinegar?
As we all know, a lot of the time, expiration dates don’t always exactly line up with the actual degradation of the product, which is why consuming out-of-date foodstuffs is often perfectly fine — it still tastes great and cuts down on waste!
This couldn’t be truer when it comes to balsamic vinegar.
Even low-grade balsamic can outlive its printed expiration date by many years, but the difference between the low and high end of the balsamic quality spectrum is that the cheaper stuff will start to deteriorate over this period.
The expensive stuff, on the other hand, will at the very least maintain its superb quality for years to come — we’re talking decades!
So, is it okay to use that standard balsamic that’s been sitting in your kitchen for 8 years or so?
Yes, absolutely, especially if it’s unopened, as the acid content keeps it edible, but it’s not going to have the same punch as it used to.
What Is Considered “Good” Balsamic Vinegar?
Although price doesn’t always indicate quality, it does when you’re talking about wine or balsamic vinegar. The more pennies you fork out, the higher quality the balsamic will be.
Of course, you shouldn’t expect to pay quite as much for quality balsamic as you would for fine wine, but anywhere between $30 and $150 is realistic.
Within this price range, the balsamic vinegar will be crafted to a much higher standard and will have been aged for anywhere between 11 and 25 years.
If you’re looking for a good vinegar at the lower end of this spectrum, take a look at this fantastic bottle from Giuseppe Giusti.
If only the best will do, allow me to introduce this masterpiece from the experts over at Alma Gourmet.
How Should Balsamic Vinegar Be Stored?
As is the case with any perishable product, the way in which it is stored can have a drastic impact on its lifespan.
For balsamic vinegar, the key is to keep it away from excess heat, so no more storing it by your oven!
That’s not to say you should put it in your refrigerator either. The best place to keep your balsamic is cool and dark, so the back of a cupboard away from ovens and direct sunlight is perfect.
Having said that, if you’re hoping to make some truly crisp and refreshing salads with your balsamic vinegar, then it’s generally considered okay to keep it refrigerated — no one wants room temperature salad!
How To Use Balsamic Vinegar Quickly?
If you’re worried your bottle of balsamic might be approaching the very feazing of its usability, here are a few epic ways that you can use larger quantities and prevent it going to waste.
- Caramelized Onions- As long as you have enough onions in your pan, caramelized onion probably requires more balsamic than any other recipe, so it’s perfect for using up the bulk of an ancient bottle.
- Bolognese- Once your vegetables start to soften, add a few splashes of balsamic vinegar to the pan to give them a bit of tang that cuts pleasantly through the tomato sauce.
- Balsamic Mushrooms-Next time you’re frying up some mushrooms, wait until they start to shrink, then pour in a generous amount of balsamic vinegar.
- Meat Marinade- No marinade for your meat? No problem! Drizzle balsamic all over the cut, then p[prepare for a taste sensation.
- Balsamic Glaze- This is simply a reduction of balsamic vinegar, and it’s absolutely delicious.
There you have it — Good balsamic vinegar can last indefinitely if stored correctly.
Cheaper balsamic will also last an extremely long time, but the quality will go into decline around the 5-year mark.