I've had the vanilla for at least a few years (big bottle from Costco), and I'm making whipping cream for a dessert for work. Can I use my vanilla safely?
I don't think vanilla ever spoils. I've had my bottle for over a year.
Vanilla is alcohol based, so I would use it.
By the way, I just found this so I think you are okay.
Q. Is vanilla extract with a date of 1974 too old to use? What about the shelf-life of other spices and powders?
A. Haven't been doing a whole lot of baking, have we? Yes, vanilla extract has at least 35% alcohol, but that doesn't mean that it improves with age like fine wines. The folks at Nielsen-Massey Vanillas (whose goal, admittedly, is to sell more and more vanilla) say you can keep properly stored vanilla extract for four or five years. Proper storage, they add, implies a tight seal and room temperature.
Vanilla is expensive, but we think you can splurge more than once every 28 years, indeed, more than every 10 years. Buy a smaller bottle, if you must. And who knows, having a half-filled bottle of vanilla on your shelf that's only four or five years old may inspire you to bake a little more often.
1974? Hm! My mother has some of those! (She throws out NOTHING.)
The only thing I've noticed old vanilla to do is the same thing old perfume does -- the smell goes off. In which case it doesn't do the right things in the dish, obviously. But it would no way kill someone or make you sick, the alcohol's way too high. So smell it, and if it still smells like vanilla, it should be fine.
This made me laugh. I go through vanilla so fast that I can't imagine ever being concerned about the shelf life. My mother even gives me a bottle at Christmas of the good stuff. I just love vanilla.
I did just buy some Mexican vanilla while in Mexico last month. I have yet to try it since I already have one bottle of Nielsen-Massey open.
Something I have found helpful is to date spices and other shelf goods. I started doing this at our family cabin. With multiple cooks, no one had a clue as to how old anything was. This practice was so successful that I implemented it in my own kitchen and have kept it up ever since. I keep the Sharpie marking pen in a predictable place and write '03 or whatever on the items before I put them away after grocery shopping.
I also second member10000's suggestion to buy small quantities of items you use rarely.
I just started doing this with dried beans. If they're over a year old, I don't even try to cook with them; I've had too many recipes ruined by beans that refused to soften.
It's my impression that vanilla tends to evaporate with age. At least, I often go to the bottle and am surprised that I have less than I think I did. Or, this is just forgetfulness on my part. . . .
Njohnson, have you been to the site www.vanilla.com? I got a wonderful sampler from them---three (small) bottles of designer vanilla (Tahitian, Madgascar and Bourbon) and six lovely soft fresh and fragrant vanilla beans for only $25. A good deal for very nice quality vanilla.
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