Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Mar 18, 2007 07:53 PM

does vinegar go bad?

i just made potato salad, and even though i don't normally use vinegar, i know a lot of recipes do, so i threw a splash (less than a tablespoon) in at the last minute. it was a previosly unopened bottle of honey wine vinegar that i got as a gift, i'm not sure when.

i put it in while the potatoes were still hot, right before putting it in the fridge, but now it smells VERY strongly of the vinegar. it it just because it's still hot? or could the vinegar have gone bad?


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I've never had unopened vinegar go bad on me but I have had opened vinegar go cloudy and obviuosly spoiled
    I think it will be better when it has cooled all the way - the flavor mellows as it soaks in.....
    Plus warm vinegar is not very apealing.. chilled ... much more so.

    1. No vinegar does not realy go bad. Sometimes if you are lucky it produces "mother" which is a cloudy sort of glatinous substance you can use to make new vinegar from leftver wine, apple cider etc. Wnen adding vinegar to potatoes to potat salad it is better to add it to the potatoes when they are stilll hot or warm.It hlps them to absorb the flavor and the strong aroma will dissapate as the potatoes cool.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Candy

        What is " mother" is it alive?? How does it make vinegar. ty for info

        1. re: coastie

          Yes, it's alive. It's the cellulose left behind by the bacterial culture that produces acetic acid. It eats sugar and excretes acetic acid, similar to the way that yeast eats sugar and excretes carbon dioxide. That cloudy, semi-gelatinous stuff at the bottom of the vinegar doesn't mean spoiled, it means that it's still alive.

          1. re: GVDub

            When I had what resembled a "floating jellyfish" in my white balsamic vinegar, I decided that it should find a new home in the sea. I don't care that it's the mother to new vinegar... Raw fish is one thing, but living vinegar... that just turns my stomach the wrong way :-(

      2. It's probably because it's hot.

        Vinegar doesn't get stronger as it sits in the bottle - the acid content basically shouldn't change much, but the flavor and "other" aromas will definitely deteriorate over time, if it's something other than plain, distilled white vinegar.

        Only unpasteurized vinegar forms a mother, and it's obvious once you've seen it - it's a fairly solid "clump" that wouldn't be especially easy to break up by shaking, not a lot of swirly sediment that happens to have settled to the bottom.

        1. If you are lucky to get a mother in one of your vinegar bottle, transfer it into a thick pottery jar that has a lid, and you can add daily, weekly or monthly your leftover bottle of wine to produce your own vinegar. It is quite fun, and depending on the wine you use, you will produce a fine and softer vinegar that most of the stuff you buy in the store.

          1. The short answer: what you smelled probably wasn't b/c your vinegar went "bad" - you probably smelled it b/c it was warm. And so long as your vinegar has maintained its acidity [more on this below...], it's really too harsh an environment for much bad to happen...

            However if you have a non-pasteurized vinegar, that is one with the live acetobacter culture in it [which is responsible for forming the 'mother'], it will eventually "go bad" in the sense that you will end up with the acetic acid converted into carbon dioxide and water. That is why when you make your own vinegar after the acetobacter has done it's job converting the alcohol into acetic acid, it is important to either pasteurize it or to exclude all oxygen by bottling it to the brim of a capped bottle. This will eventually kill the acetoacter as they are aerobic, and thus needs oxygen.

            I'm by no means an expert in this, but when I became interested in making my own vinegar, which is very easy, by the way, I ran into the so-called Krebs cycle, of which a part of which is the conversion of sugars into alcohol, and alcohol into acetic acid, and acetic acid into carbon dioxide and water... (When I make red wine vinegar at home the sugar to alcohol step is overseen for me by the vitner, the part between alcohol to acetic acid [vinegar] is overseen by me, and hopefully I will have prevented the conversion of acetic acid to carbon dioxide and water by bottling the finished vinegar when the desired acidity has been reached...)

            (Here's just a few pictures depicting how I got started in this simple process... )

            9 Replies
            1. re: cgfan

              Yay I have a "mother"!!! I too looked at my white wine vinegar and was disgusted by the jellyfish like object in the bottle. Luckily I came here to find out if my vinegar had in fact gone off. I can't wait to try making my own vinegar now. I am curious if I have to use white wine with the white wine vinegar mother. Thanks cgfan!!!

              1. re: jodie_foodcents

                Well you should be able to slowly "convert" your white wine vinegar mother to consume red wine. I'd suggest starting off with slow feedings. Your vinegar will "talk back" to you by developing an acetic (vinegary) smell when it has gained some momentum.

                At first it'll take some time, so be patient with the size and frequency of the feedings. But as the culture gets used to the feedings it'll start to convert the wine into vinegar much faster.

                At some point when your culture's well-established I'd suggest removing the original white wine vinegar mother once things get underway, as you'll probably now have developed quite a different culture if being fed red wine.

                Good luck - it's fun to do and rewarding!

                P.S.: Make sure you air out the red wine if it was recently opened to evaporate off the sulfurous compounds. Otherwise adding it to your vinegar culture could set it back quite a bit...

              2. re: cgfan

                Great information. The good news is that I found a "mother" tonight. How do I move her to a vessel to start my process of being choosen to make my own vinegar???

                1. re: mlongview

                  mlongview - that is, I take it you found a mother in a jar of vinegar?

                  If so, great! First choose a suitable container where you can culture your vinegar. You want to satisfy several conditions, some for the health and viability of the vinegar culture, and others for ease of use and maintenance for you.

                  First, know that the culture is aerobic. It needs fresh air in order for it to thrive. However it doesn't consume copious amounts of air, so all one need to provide for is a jar where you will have suitable "headroom" above the culturing vinegar. For this, a wide jar is preferable over a narrow one, as it will provide more surface area and headroom.

                  Of course this also means that the lid cannot have a hermetic seal. It must be able to breathe. However, your vessel must be able to prevent fruit flies from entering and laying their eggs in your vessel. In my vinegar jar, a glazed ceramic vessel, I cut a disk out of some thick paper toweling to use as a gasket between the lid and the rim, the lid just being held by gravity.

                  Try and choose a material that is rather inert, such as glass or a glazed ceramic. Avoid materials such as stainless steel which has a natural antiseptic affect. However if glass is used you will want to keep it in a dark area.

                  It will be a great if your vessel has a wide mouth on top. This is to allow for you to insert your hand for an occasional removal of some of the mother to either give away or throw out, when it gets too excessive.

                  Also since you want to avoid disturbing your culture, it is a great benefit to have a spout an inch or more off of the bottom of the vessel. This would be high enough to avoid pouring out sediment but well below any floating mother, in order to access pure finished vinegar.

                  One interesting option is to use a small oak wine barrel or purpose-made oak vinegar barrel, especially for red-wine vinegar, for taste. I personally use toasted oak cubes instead, readily available from home wine-making supply stores.

                  However initially use temporary containers capped with a paper towel and a rubber band. This is to allow you to slowly build-up your culture, as initially you will be adding very small amounts of wine at a time. Pay very close attention to your culture - it will "talk to you" by generating a strong acetic aroma when it's ready for a new "feeding" of wine.

                  Also make sure, particularly when just building your culture, to let your wine breathe so cast off any sulfites, whose presence will set back the culture. Just go slowly at first, and transfer to successively larger vessels until you're ready to go to your chosen "final" vinegar jar.

                  Good luck! Culturing your own red wine vinegar is both easy and rewarding!

                  1. re: cgfan

                    Wow. this is going to be exciting!! Can't believe I have a "mother". This almost feels like cutting and crushing cabbage for sauerkrautk. Everyone wanted me to throw the "spoiled" vinegar away.

                    Thank you so much for all the info and will be referring to this reply and asking more questions as I listen to my aroma and finding the right finishing jar.

                    1. re: mlongview

                      I thought I asked this but guess I didn't. How do you get the mother out of the vinegar??!!

                      1. re: mlongview

                        The mother should eventually form a gelatinous mass, about the thickness and texture of leather. When initially formed it floats on top, but eventually gets dense enough to sink to the bottom. Because of this you may have to "dig" for it, as it may no longer be floating on top. I just pull it out over the jar of culturing vinegar and snip off the desired amount, such that the rest just falls back into the vinegar jar.

                        On occasion I've seen a skin-like film form, sort of like the skin on scalded milk, which I assume to the a mother in the making. If it's this latter form that you have, then you could just use a sieve to scoop it up, though I'd avoid using metals. Or perhaps by running a spread-out hand through the culturing vinegar to catch the film of mother?

                        If you don't have either of these but you're sure you have a healthy, active culture, (judged by the speed of conversion from wine to vinegar), than don't worry about waiting for a mother to form. Just draw off some of the vinegar, as that'll have plenty of active culture in it. For whatever reason when I first started my vinegar jar it literally took nearly a year for a visible mother to form, even though long before that it has been actively producing vinegar...

                        1. re: cgfan

                          Looks like my mother is growing. I must have seen it the first couple of days when it first started. I just didn't know if I pour out this bottle in something and fish out the mother. And then, is the rest of the cloudy vinegar still good? It is a white wine aged colivita bottle (white wine) that has started all this curisousity (sp?)

                          Thanks for the learning.

                          1. re: mlongview

                            It should be, though my experience is with red wine vinegar only. The cloudiness is probably due to your vinegar being disturbed, as I assume it still is in its original condiment jar. If left undisturbed long enough all the solids should settle out.

                            The vinegar jar I use to culture my vinegar ***never*** gets moved or disturbed; it's quite large and has its own wooden stand. That allows me to always draw off clear vinegar at any time directly from the spigot.

                            If you really have a viable vinegar, you should have plenty of active culture whether you see a mother or not. The real test would be to start building up the culture by slowly adding wine to it and observe the rate at which it acidifies. If it gets progressively faster, you know you have an actively growing culture.