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Originating from the French phrase vin aigre, meaning “sour wine,” vinegar is made by fermenting various alcohols into liquids high in acetic acid.
From grapes, we get red wine and balsamic vinegar; from corn-based ethanol, we get white vinegar; and from fermented apples, we get apple cider vinegar.
Drinking apple cider vinegar dates back millennia—it’s even rumored that Roman soldiers like Julius Caesar consumed a spiced version of it as far back as 55 BCE.
In recent years, people have begun recognizing the benefits of apple cider vinegar, from lowering blood sugar to improving digestion to supporting weight loss.
But it’s unlikely—and unrecommended—that you’d be able to drink an entire bottle of apple cider vinegar in one sitting, leading many people to wonder if apple cider vinegar goes bad as it sits in your pantry.
The short answer is apple cider vinegar will never expire; although it can change in appearance and taste over time, you can safely consume it for years, especially if it’s stored in a cool, dark place.
In this article, learn more about how apple cider vinegar changes over time, if apple cider vinegar goes bad, and the best ways to store it for longer shelf life.
Apple cider vinegar is known to have several health benefits, especially relating to digestive and metabolic health.
Organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar contains something called the “mother”—a probiotic-rich, enzyme-loaded substance that gives it a hazy, murky appearance.
Although it doesn’t necessarily look too appetizing, the mother is what provides apple cider vinegar with many of its health benefits—especially those related to digestion.
Therefore, consuming filtered apple cider vinegar that does not contain the mother may not impart the same advantages.
Apple cider vinegar has been well-studied for its role in lowering blood sugar.
One small study published in the journal Diabetes Care found that insulin-resistant people who consumed 20g of apple cider vinegar before a high-carbohydrate meal improved their insulin sensitivity by 34%.
In the same study, people with type 2 diabetes who underwent the same experiment improved their insulin sensitivity by 19%.
As insulin resistance is a strong determinant of developing type 2 diabetes, this research suggests that adding apple cider vinegar before meals can help halt this metabolic dysfunction.
There’s some, albeit not as strong, evidence that apple cider vinegar may help support fat or weight loss by increasing satiety from meals.
One 3-month study of obese Japanese adults found that consuming one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar per day led to a weight loss of 2.6 pounds; in contrast, two daily tablespoons of apple cider vinegar promoted a weight loss of 3.7 pounds.
However, that amount of weight loss over three months is negligible, so take the purported weight loss benefits of apple cider vinegar with a grain of salt.
Apple cider vinegar is known to kill off microbes and pathogens, which is why people—including the famed father of medicine, Hippocrates—have used vinegar for cleaning and disinfecting for thousands of years.
Along the same lines, apple cider vinegar can preserve food, inhibiting harmful bacteria like E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus from growing and causing foodborne illness.
With its antimicrobial action, apple cider vinegar may also soothe skin irritations, including diaper rashes, putting apple cider vinegar’s “mother” into a whole new context.
Lastly, apple cider vinegar may help with digestion, especially in people with low stomach acid.
Increasing stomach acid in those who need it can aid digestion by improving protein breakdown, reducing gas and bloating due to incomplete digestion.
Plus, apple cider vinegar’s antimicrobial properties may help kill off harmful bacteria in the gut to improve the microbiome.
Apple cider vinegar with the mother will always look a little hazy, as it’s unfiltered and contains beneficial bacteria floating around.
Filtered apple cider vinegar may also start to become murky-looking over time.
This is primarily due to oxygen exposure, which occurs every time you open the lid.
Over time, oxygenation can cause the release of citric acid and sulfur dioxide, changing the appearance and possibly the taste of apple cider vinegar.
This doesn’t affect its nutritional benefits or shelf life but may alter how a recipe turns out.
However, this doesn’t happen overnight—it typically takes years.
Technically, apple cider vinegar—or any vinegar, for that matter—will never expire.
This is because vinegar is highly acidic—remember that it’s made by fermenting liquids into acetic acid, a substance with a pH between 2-3.
However, apple cider vinegar is not 100% acetic acid—it’s typically between 5-6%, making the pH of apple cider vinegar about 3.5.
For reference, coffee has a pH of 5, lemon juice has a pH of 3, and our stomach acid has a pH between 1-2.
Although apple cider vinegar can change aesthetically over time due to oxygenation, this only affects how it looks and possibly how it tastes—not whether it’s safe to use.
So, if you’re wondering how you can tell if apple cider vinegar is bad, the answer is: it doesn’t go bad.
Many bottles of apple cider vinegar state that the shelf life is two to five years from when the vinegar was produced—but this is only because the FDA requires them to place an expiration date.
Manufacturers tend to agree that apple cider vinegar is safe to use well beyond its expiration dates due to its highly acidic and self-preserving nature.
Generally speaking, apple cider vinegar will remain at its freshest for about two years; after that, it may change in quality but is still perfectly safe to use.
Many people wonder if apple cider vinegar needs to be refrigerated.
You don’t need to refrigerate apple cider vinegar once it’s opened—this will not extend its shelf life or improve the quality.
Instead, simply store apple cider vinegar in a dark place away from direct sunlight, like in a pantry, cabinet, or basement storage.
Hebert AA. A new therapeutic horizon in diaper dermatitis: Novel agents with novel action. Int J Womens Dermatol. 2021;7(4):466-470. Published 2021 Feb 16. doi:10.1016/j.ijwd.2021.02.003
Johnston CS, Kim CM, Buller AJ. Vinegar improves insulin sensitivity to a high-carbohydrate meal in subjects with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2004;27(1):281-282. doi:10.2337/diacare.27.1.281
Kondo T, Kishi M, Fushimi T, Ugajin S, Kaga T. Vinegar intake reduces body weight, body fat mass, and serum triglyceride levels in obese Japanese subjects. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2009;73(8):1837-1843. doi:10.1271/bbb.90231
Yagnik D, Serafin V, J Shah A. Antimicrobial activity of apple cider vinegar against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans; downregulating cytokine and microbial protein expression. Sci Rep. 2018;8(1):1732. Published 2018 Jan 29. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-18618-x
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