Exploring the properties of vinegar
I have several gallons of vinegar in storage. It’s generally inexpensive and really pretty versatile. I use distilled white vinegar for cleaning and laundry purposes and for canning pickles in the summer. I also have Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar on hand for salad dressings and other medicinal purposes. I have a few bottles of white wine vinegar that I infused with fresh rosemary and garlic. It’s pretty tasty.
I pulled out a fresh bottle of distilled vinegar the other day and realized that it has an expiration date – three years ago, actually. Hence the reason for this post. Does vinegar go bad?
How is vinegar made?
Vinegar is made by fermentation of the natural sugars found in either grains or fruit, which is converted to alcohol. The alcohol is then fermented a second time and it turns into vinegar. You might say wine is to grapes what vinegar is to wine. The mainstays of the category – white distilled, cider, wine, and malt have now been joined by balsamic, rice, rice wine, raspberry, pineapple, chardonnay, flavored and seasoned vinegar and more.
There are different kinds of vinegar. What kind are you most likely to find in the USA?
Balsamic vinegar is aged for 12 to 25 years and must be made from the juice of a grape product, not from wine. Usually about 4% acidity.
Apple cider vinegar is made from the juice or “must” of apples and is often sold unpasteurized with the “mother” still in the bottle. Apple cider vinegar has been used for centuries as a health ingredient. It is 5% acidity
Distilled white vinegar is not produced by distillation at all, but by fermentation of distilled alcohol. The most common starting material is malt, because of the low cost. In the United States, corn is most commonly used. This is the vinegar used for canning and has 5% acidity. Heinz also makes a “cleaning vinegar” with 10% acidity. It should not be used for canning or for making salad dressings!
Wine vinegar is made from red or white wine (grapes) and tends to have a lower acidity than white or cider vinegar’s, at 4%.
Rice or rice wine vinegar is made by the two-fold fermentation of sugars from rice or a concentrate of rice without distillation. Various flavors are becoming increasingly popular and easy to find in the grocery store. It has a milder flavor than either cider vinegar or distilled vinegar. Acidity ranges from 4% to 7%. Check out this link at A Gardeners Table for canning with rice vinegar.
Does the acidity of vinegar change over time?
Yes, it decreases. According to Dr. V, a chemistry teacher, there are two possible reasons. First, over time the vinegar absorbs water from the air and this dilutes the concentration thereby lowering the acidity. The second reason is related to stability. Over time the acetic acid (vinegar) slowly decomposes. This will also decrease the acidity.
Therefore, I would only use fresh vinegar for canning and pickling purposes, but that’s up to you. Older vinegar may have changed its acidity level and I won’t take the change using the three years (past expiration) vinegar for canning. It still works fabulous for cleaning and other household purposes.
10 Semi-Common Vinegar Uses
1. Clean your windows with vinegar and newspaper
2. Preserve cucumbers
3. Clean counter tops
4. Add to laundry as a fabric softener
5. Color Easter eggs
6. Wart removal
7. Stop itching – apply a paste made from vinegar and cornstarch. Keep on until itch disappears.
8. Fruit and vegetable wash, use 2 T vinegar to 1 pint of water
9. Remove lime stains from bathroom faucets
10. Make berry ink by using the directions below: with ½ C. Ripe berries (blueberries, cherries, blackberries, strawberries, elderberries, raspberries, etc.), ½ Tsp. Vinegar, ½ Tsp. Salt
Fill a strainer with the berries and hold it over a bowl. Using the rounded back of a wooden spoon, crush the berries against the strainer so that the berry juice strains into the bowl. Keep adding berries until most of their juice has been strained out and only pulp remains. Add the salt and vinegar to the berry juice. The vinegar helps the ink retain its color and the salt keeps it from getting too moldy. If the berry ink is too thick, add a tablespoon of water. Store in a baby food jar. Only make a small amount of berry ink at a time and, when not in use, keep it tightly covered.
To find these ideas and more visit the Vinegar Institute’s Cleaning Page.
Is vinegar as effective as bleach on germs in the kitchen?
Yes, according to this Colorado State University publication, once 5% distilled white vinegar is heated to at least 150 degrees F. it is as effective as bleach in treating Listeria Monocytogenes, E. Coli and Salmonella.
Can you use vinegar in combination with peroxide?
It turns out that you really shouldn’t trust EVERYTHING you read on Pinterest! After I wrote a post about a great natural cleaner that I found there, I learned the truth. The combination of vinegar and peroxide MIXED TOGETHER is caustic, but only when you mix them together in the same bottle.
The proper way to clean with vinegar and peroxide is this:
First, you spray with a straight vinegar solution and let it sit for a minute and wipe it off. THEN you spray with the peroxide and let it sit for a minute and wipe it off. This Vinegar / Peroxide combination is effective on surfaces.
The CDC has published information on this page. “Hydrogen peroxide is active against a wide range of microorganisms, including bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses, and spores. A 0.5% accelerated hydrogen peroxide demonstrated bactericidal and virucidal activity in 1 minute and mycobactericidal and fungicidal activity in 5 minutes.”
BONUS: Today Kitchen Stewardship has a terrific article about Using Hydrogen Peroxide for disinfecting. You really should check it out.
And here’s the verdict – does vinegar go bad?
No, vinegar has an indefinite shelf life and can safely be used for cooking and cleaning, long after its expiration date.
Why do they even give an expiration date? To sell more vinegar, of course!
Studies have been conducted by The Vinegar Institute and confirm that vinegar’s shelf life is almost indefinite. It does not even require refrigeration. Its acid nature makes vinegar self-preserving. White distilled vinegar will remain virtually unchanged over an extended period of time. You may observe some color changes in other types of vinegar, but this is only an aesthetic change.
So, it’s good news. My three-year-old vinegar is still good – which is fantastic because we’ve already used it several times. How about you, how many bottles of vinegar do you have on hand? Stock up, because it has many uses and it doesn’t go bad.
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