Shelf life of vanilla extract.

A friend on FB is wondering if vanilla extract goes bad. She found it in the cupboard and it has a use-by date in 1996. The label on the bottle says “pure.” I won’t hold out hope that it’s of the highest quality, but is it likely to be safe?

Thanks for any answers.

Though probably well past its peak with regards to aroma/flavor, with the high alcohol content I doubt it would actually be unsafe.

Is it so expensive that it’s worth the risk?

Vanilla essence is normally extracted and sold in ethanol. Ethanol’s a good preservative but over time it evaporates from all but the most securely sealed containers, so I wouldn’t trust an opened container of that age.

The issue with any food of that age isn’t whether the food itself has undergone some chemical reaction, it’s whether it is growing microbes. Even the most hostile environments, such as pure sugar crystals, are capable of growing microbes at an extremely slow rate. Given 15 years I would assume that any opened food source will be alive even if it’s not detectable.

The problem is that there’s no reliable way of detecting these things outside a micro lab. The don’t always produce odours or other signs of spoilage. What they do often do is produce some really hideous toxins that accumulate over time.

IMHO it ain’t worth it unless the stuff is worth at least $100 a bottle. The risks would be much less if the bottle has never been opened, but quite frankly any food source that old is suspect.

I wouldn’t use it in whipped cream, but I would bake with it. But only if it was really expensive vanilla. McCormick’s? I’d probably toss it.

No, I wouldn’t, I’d use it to scent my house as soon as the weather turns cool.