Extra-Old Extract

By Cook's Illustrated Published March 2009

Does vanilla extract ever go bad or lose potency?

Some people bake enough cookies and cakes to blow through a whole bottle of vanilla extract in just a month, while less enthusiastic bakers may keep the same bottle for years. Does vanilla extract ever go bad or lose potency?

We located 3-year-old and 10-year-old bottles of vanilla extract and compared them with a fresh bottle of the same brand in three of our recipes: yellow cupcakes, vanilla frosting, and chocolate chip cookies. Although the older bottles took a bit of effort to open, once the extract was incorporated into recipes, tasters could detect no difference between the old and the new.

Vanilla extract has a minimum alcohol content of 35 percent, which, according to Matt Nielsen of vanilla manufacturer Nielsen-Massey, makes it the most shelf-stable form of vanilla (beans and paste can lose flavor quickly). It will last indefinitely if stored in a sealed container away from heat and light.


This bottle may look old on the outside, but the extract inside will stay fresh indefinitely.