What helps make flaky, buttery crusts in things like croissants, pastries, and pie crusts? Fat – specifically, shortening! Shortening’s role in baking is to help deliver that crispy, flaky crust – but it can only do so when it’s fresh and maintains its original quality. So how do you know when shortening goes bad?
Sealed shortening is generally good for at least two years when unopened and for around six months after opening. Any expiration or best-by dates on the can take precedence over those guidelines, though!
In this article we’ll cover the best storage practices for shortening, signs shortening has gone bad, and much more!
What IS shortening?
Technically, shortening is any fat that is solid at room temperature and is used for baking. Shortening helps promote flaky crusts in things like pies and other baked goods. Some examples of fats that can be considered shortening are butter, margarine, lard, and coconut oil.
However, when most people think of shortening, they think of a tub of white fat, such as Crisco. While Crisco is a type of shortening, remember that it’s not the only type of shortening.
For this article, we’ll be referring to the shelf life of Crisco-like shortening, which is vegetable-based and contains soybean oil, fully hydrogenated palm oil, and palm oil as the primary fat sources.
What is the shelf life of shortening?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the recommended shelf life for shortening is eight months when sealed and three months after opening “for best quality”. However, most other sources cite a shelf life of two years when unopened and six months after opening.
So how do you know which one to follow? First, check the expiration or best-by date on your shortening. That date takes precedence, and using shortening well beyond that date will probably result in a less desirable texture.
Because vegetable shortening has added preservatives (BHQ and citric acid, specifically), it’s likely fine to err on the longer side and say that unopened shortening can last two years, and opened shortening can last at least six months.
You might be able to prolong the shelf life of shortening by freezing it (make sure it’s tightly wrapped to prevent ice crystal formation), which likely will extend the shelf life closer to the two-year mark.
How long does shortening last after opening?
As we just mentioned, shortening is likely to stay fresh anywhere from 3-6 months after opening. While refrigerating or freezing shortening isn’t guaranteed to prolong its shelf life by a specific amount, you’ll likely gain a few more months out of it by doing so.
Keep in mind that shortening is meant to be soft and easy to scoop out of the container, so you’ll need to let it set out at room temperature for several hours if you choose to keep it in the fridge or freezer.
Can you use shortening after its expiration date?
Most foods are still considered okay to use even after their expiration date – the bigger concern tends to be with the freshness and quality.
It’s likely fine and safe to use Crisco for a few weeks after the expiration date, but beyond that, we don’t recommend it. Crisco’s high-fat content means the fats can go rancid, giving an off taste and potentially interfering with the texture of your baked goods.
How to tell if shortening went bad
Shortening doesn’t contain any dairy ingredients, which is why it’s fine to store it in your pantry and not the fridge. However, it can still go bad – but how do you know when it’s reached that point?
Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to spot when shortening goes bad. Some signs that shortening has gone bad:
- The color changes from an off-white to a yellowish color that continues to darken (yuck!).
- Shortening takes on a “musky” smell or smells like chemicals.
- The texture changes from soft to hard.
What’s the danger in using shortening after it’s gone bad?
If you use shortening after it’s gone bad, the worst thing that could likely happen is that you get an upset stomach and it ruins the flavor of whatever you were making. You’re unlikely to get seriously sick from using old shortening, especially if you only eat a little of it (you likely wouldn’t eat much before you noticed the rancid taste!)
Best storage practices for shortening
- Once opened, keep shortening away from direct heat, which could hasten the process of the fats going rancid.
- Always keep the lid on the shortening tightly closed to keep oxygen out.
- Store shortening in the fridge or freezer if you don’t use it often, or if you live in a hot climate where the shortening is likely to be exposed to constant high heat. If you freeze shortening, make sure it’s tightly sealed.
|Room temp (pantry)||Fridge/freezer|
|Opened shortening||~3-6 months||~3-6 months; possibly a few months longer|
|Sealed shortening||Likely up to 2 years or the best-by/expiration date||Likely up to 2 years or the best-by/expiration date|
Shortening should be stored in your pantry at room temperature. It’s also fine to pop it in the refrigerator. If you do choose to chill shortening, remember that it will take some time for it to return to room temperature before you’ll be able to easily use it since it’s meant to be soft.
Yes, you can swap out butter for shortening in a 1:1 ratio! Cookies made with shortening tend to be softer and more tender (less chewy) than using butter.