All good things must come to an end. And sorry, sandwich fans, that includes mustard. Read on to find out how long you can keep your fave yellow spread.
Tangy, spreadable, and versatile, mustard is possibly the perfect condiment. Slather it on a sandwich, add it to a cheese sauce for some kick, or squeeze a squiggle on a hot dog — whatever your favorite application, mustard def deserves a place in a well-stocked kitchen.
But since you probably only use mustard in pretty small amounts, that Dijon or classic yellow bottle may have been hanging around on a shelf in your fridge for… well, you’re not sure how long. Is there a point at which it’s no longer usable?
Like any other food, mustard does spoil (eventually), but because of its acidity, it’s an impressively long-lived condiment. Here’s what to know about whether mustard goes bad.
Do a quick Google search about mustard’s shelf life, and you’ll find some strangely inconclusive answers. Some say that because mustard’s ingredients (like mustard seeds, vinegar, and water) are endlessly shelf-stable, mustard never expires.
But as much as we might dream of endless mustard, the condiment isn’t immortal. (We’d still be eating mustard leftover from ancient Babylon if it were.)
Though each bottle’s lifespan will vary, in general, mustard’s flavor and texture will degrade over time, making it unusable. Still, many mustards last for months — some even stay good for up to 2 to 3 years!
Here’s a rundown of how long the most popular types of mustard last:
Dijon mustard. Ooh, la la! The French spread is one of the longer-lasting varieties, with an unopened shelf life of up to 3 years. And once you’ve popped the lid off your Dijon, it can stay in the fridge for about 1 year.
Honey mustard. Like Dijon, honey mustard has a shelf life of up to 3 years unopened and 1 to 2 years opened and refrigerated.
Yellow mustard. The “old reliable” of mustards is also usable for up to 1 year after opening. You’ll get 1 to 2 years out of unopened yellow mustard.
Whole grain mustard. This variety with intact seeds joins the same freshness club as Dijon and honey mustard: It’s good for 1 to 3 years before opening and about 1 year afterward.
Mustard powder. The only mustard you should store at room temp (a spice cabinet is ideal), mustard powder can last an epic 3 to 4 years.
Mustard’s high acidity levels are a boon to its shelf life, with low pH levels inhibiting the growth of pathogens.
But no matter how acidic, no food is eternally edible. Even long-lasting ingredients like mustard seeds and vinegar lose quality, flavor, and texture over time — gradually rendering them unpleasant (or even dangerous) to eat.
Plus, when you introduce kitchen utensils into a jar of mustard, they can carry bacteria with them, leading to food spoilage. Mustard is also no stranger to mold growth. Since mold spores are constantly in the air, once mustard is opened, it may develop unsightly splotches.
Repeat after us: Expiration dates are guidelines, not laws. Even the USDA states that freshness dates are added to foods as an indicator of quality, not safety.
So though the little printed date on the side of your mustard jar can be a helpful ballpark estimate of its freshness and flavor, your Dijon isn’t a ticking time bomb counting down to a magical date when it suddenly turns rancid.
Rather than focusing too closely on a best-by label, it’s best to use your senses to determine when mustard has rounded the bend of freshness.
Signs that your condiment has gone bad include:
- An unpleasant smell (or one that seems “off”)
- Visible mold
- A hard or crusty texture
- A funky color
- An excessively acidic or bitter taste
In these days of rising grocery costs, no one can fault you for wanting to get the most out of your mustard (or any other food). And fortunately, there are a few tricks for helping this condiment stay good longer.
Storing mustard in the refrigerator will extend its shelf life, so once opened, be sure to stash your ’stard in the fridge, not the pantry. Keep it sealed tightly to minimize its exposure to light and air.
Then, when it’s time to eat, always use clean utensils if you’re going to dip into the jar. (Dunking a bitten-off sausage, a not-so-sterile knife, or even your fingers directly into the jar is a surefire way to introduce bacteria.)