Is that dusty bottle of apple-cider vinegar in your pantry still good? Here's what you need to know about apple-cider vinegar and its expiration date. Plus, how to store it and what to use in case you're out of apple-cider vinegar.

So, you did a little spring-cleaning and found a pre-pandemic bottle of apple-cider vinegar—is it still OK to use? Does apple-cider vinegar go bad? Short answer: no. Read on to find out more.

Related: The Surprising Health Benefits of Vinegar

What Is Apple-Cider Vinegar?

Apple-cider vinegar, also called cider vinegar, is made from fermented apples. Apples are first crushed and pressed into apple juice, and then mixed with yeast to ferment. Once the natural sugars have converted into alcohol, a second fermentation happens where bacteria transform the alcohol into acetic acid (this is the role of the "mother"; more on that in a sec). Acetic acid is the primary component of vinegar and the substance that gives vinegar its characteristic tangy and sour flavor profile.

Apple-cider vinegar is sold filtered or unfiltered. Unfiltered or raw apple-cider vinegar has a murky appearance and contains something called the "mother," which is a cloudy, gelatinous, living orb-like mass that contains natural and good-for-you bacteria and/or yeast (aka probiotics, which improve digestion and help our bodies absorb more nutrients). This mother is a natural byproduct of fermentation, turning alcohol into vinegar. Filtered versions do not contain the mother, and look more transparent and less cloudy.

How to Tell If Apple-Cider Vinegar Is Bad

Although apple-cider vinegar can never really go bad, it can undergo some physical changes over time. As it ages, apple-cider vinegar may become cloudier and produce more sediment, especially in the unfiltered vinegar. This happens due to exposure to oxygen (from usage) and doesn't mean the vinegar has spoiled. These changes may also make your apple-cider vinegar taste more acidic.

How Long Does Apple-Cider Vinegar Last?

Due to its highly acidic nature, apple-cider vinegar is self-preserving and can last for a long time (even forever). However, when you buy a bottle at the store, you'll still find an expiration date printed on the label. This is because the FDA requires manufacturers to do so. Expiration dates are usually between two and five years from when the vinegar was produced, but it is totally fine to use apple-cider vinegar (or any vinegar for that matter) well beyond that date.

A bottle of Apple Cider Vinegar with expiration date in the background
Credit: Getty Images / cgdeaw / tylim

How to Store Apple-Cider Vinegar

Since apple-cider vinegar is naturally very acidic, it doesn't need to be refrigerated. Simply store your vinegar away from direct sunlight and in a cool, dark place. Making sure the top is screwed on tight will also help slow down the aging process. The more exposure your apple-cider vinegar has to oxygen, the more it will oxidize and undergo physical changes.

What to Use Instead of Apple-Cider Vinegar

If you're out of apple-cider vinegar, or feel uncomfortable using a bottle that's well past its printed expiration date, here are some substitutes that you may easily find in your pantry.

White-Wine Vinegar

This vinegar a similar acidity profile and can be substituted using a 1-to-1 ratio. It lacks the sweetness that apple-cider vinegar has, so add a splash of lemon or sugar to bring that element back.

White Vinegar

White vinegar can also be substituted using a 1-to-1 ratio. It has a neutral flavor profile compared to apple-cider vinegar and so adding a little lemon or fruit juice will create some depth and sweetness.

Rice Vinegar

Cider vinegar and rice vinegar have similar levels of acidity and sweetness, and can be easily swapped for one another. Make sure that the rice vinegar you have is unseasoned.

Champagne Vinegar

Champagne vinegar is milder than apple-cider vinegar, but can easily be used as a substitute. Since it's not as strong, add a little extra to make sure you're getting the same amount of punch.

Lemon Juice

This citrus is also a great substitute for apple-cider vinegar and has a similar fruit-based flavor profile.

Bottom Line

By nature, apple-cider vinegar is self-preserving and should never go bad. However, over time it will age and undergo some harmless physical changes. So, don't worry about that ancient bottle you uncovered in the way back of your pantry. That murky look and extra sedimentation are normal and your apple-cider vinegar is still OK to use. In fact, as long as your bottle is stored in a cool and dark spot, your apple-cider vinegar will be able to survive with ease.

Now that you know you can put that old bottle of vinegar to good use, try it in this refreshing dish that comes together in just 20 minutes: Chickpea, Artichoke & Avocado Salad with Apple-Cider Dressing. Or, try it in this soup, where it provides a terrific accent to squash: Roasted Butternut Squash Soup.