You might have vanilla extract in your pantry, but are you sure it’s being stored in the best possible conditions? We don’t mean to throw doubt on your ability to manage storage around your own house, but we do want you to get the best quality and longest shelf life from your extract. After all, it’s a pantry staple, so storing vanilla extract properly is key to great cooking and baking!
Store vanilla extract like you would vanilla beans: in cool, dark, dry places. That means keeping it away from sunlight as well as heat and steam from cooking in the kitchen. So by windows or in cabinets above the stove are out of the question.
There’s no need to refrigerate or freeze vanilla extract; in fact, we advise against it since the much colder conditions may alter the integrity of the extract.
Whether you buy vanilla extract from the store or make your own at home, as long as it’s pure (at least 35% alcohol content), it can last indefinitely. In fact, if you make homemade extract with real vanilla pods and vodka, the longer you leave it to steep in the liquid, the richer the concentration and, hence, the flavor and scent.
The alcohol content in both homemade and store-bought extract deters harmful bacteria from growing in it, but a quick sniff test before each use should tell you of its viability.
Imitation vanilla extract, on the other hand, won’t last as long. Although it won’t necessarily go bad, it will certainly lose its flavor and scent quicker, resulting in a shorter shelf life of about 6-12 months. Always just check the “best by” date on the bottle to know about how long you can expect optimal quality.
In summary, vanilla extract should be stored in cool — not cold — and dark places, so keep it away from any light and heat in the kitchen. If you have a dry goods pantry or shelf, that’s probably the best place for it.
In terms of shelf life, pure vanilla extract should last years, but use imitation vanilla extract and flavoring within a year. Neither of these will go bad, per se, but it’s mostly quality that will be sacrificed to time.