There are several factors that cause elderberry syrup to “go bad”:

  1. The ingredients
  2. How it’s prepared
  3. How it’s stored

The most common mistake most people make is improper storage. Even if ‘shelf stable,’ once a container is open, it must be kept in the fridge.

Can elderberry syrup expire?

Elderberry syrup does have an expiration date and its lifespan depends on how it’s made and how well you take care of it. Homemade elderberry syrup stored in a glass jar generally lasts 2-3 weeks if the pH is not below 4.2. However, its shelf life can be extended anywhere from 3 to 6 months if you’ve added an acidifier like lemon juice, citric acid, malic acid, or the liken and keep it in the “way back” of the refrigerator. You can pick up a pH meter here. They are super helpful for preserving a number of foods. 

It also helps to do a couple of quick taste and scent tests before complete consumption. If you are still not sure about the syrup’s condition, toss it out.

What about fermentation? Does elderberry syrup ferment?

Yes, it can, if the making process was faulty or storage wasn’t ideal. 

When people say that elderberry goes bad, they’re referring to fermentation. Elderberry ferments for a variety of reasons. For example, if left out for too long a time, prepared in a way whereby the PH is lower than 4.2, it will start to ferment. Even elderberry that has been acidified (by adding lemon juice, citric acid or the like), the temperature of your fridge and location inside your fridge where you store it, could still have an impact on the time it will take your elderberry to ferment.

Fermentation is a process by which carbohydrates are broken down by living things to make other molecules and provide energy to organs or cells. Carbohydrates like sugars or starches are common compounds in food. Acids, alcohols, gases and other chemicals can be made as a result of a fermentation process. Scientists at Turkish colleges confirm that fermented foods provide health benefits including anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic and anti-atherosclerotic activities. ⁴

Did you know? Some people intentionally ferment their elderberry for other nutritional beverages or delicious mocktail and cocktail concoctions! A preferred temperature range for fermenting elderberries is 86 to 105°F (or 30 to 40°C). This range is typically used for making elderberry wine or vinegar.

If you prefer to keep elderberry syrup out of the fridge temporarily, it *should* be just fine. Some preparations can last one to two weeks at room temperature before it starts ‘going bad.’

How to prevent elderberry syrup from fermenting.

Use something high in acid. It’s also called an acidifier.

Making elderberry syrup commercially is both an art and science. But the at-home maker can “wing it” and make theirs last a bit longer than a recipe says it will.

By using lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or something like malic or citric acid, you can “preserve” your elderberry for longer periods of time.

Method: Freezing elderberry syrup

Freezing elderberry syrup is a good alternate method if you want to extend its lifespan. You can always divide the syrup into separate ice cube trays that hold around 1 tablespoon per cube, which allows for one dose of syrup at a time to easily thaw out. Once they are frozen, these cubes can be transferred to an air-tight container or bag and they can stay good for as long as 6 months. Try these fun ice cube trays.

If you still prefer to use glass jars when you want to freeze elderberry syrup, it is important that you buy freezer-safe glass jars. Many glass materials are not able to endure freezing cold temperatures after a long period of time as they end up shattering. Whether you freeze elderberry syrup in glass jars or in ice cube trays the process should take anywhere from 5 to 15 minutes.

Add elderberry syrup to carbonated drinks before it expires

Carbonation is a great buffer for elderberry syrup, especially if your homemade syrup is nearing its expiration date. You can add a single tablespoon of elderberry syrup to carbonated drinks like Italian mineral water or Perrier to make a delicious elderberry soda. 

Also known as sparkling water, carbonated water has a variety of health benefits. One study revealed that along with cold temperatures, carbonation strengthened the swallowing ability in adults. ¹

If you have a buildup of mucus in your throat, then ice-cold carbonated water can give you relief. The Queens Medical Centre University Hospital in Nottingham discovered in a study of 72 people who felt a constant need to clear their throats, that 63% of them had improvements after drinking ice-cold carbonated water. ²

Make an elderberry syrup kombucha recipe

Recipes for drinks that include elderberry syrup as an ingredient will mostly vary, but one recipe that is known to be both delicious and healthy is the combination of elderberry syrup and kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented tea that contains vitamins, probiotics, and enzymes. It is brewed with a sweetened tea, but the sugar ferments out while making probiotics and enzymes, having minimal sugar in its finished product. ³

Kombucha goes through a double fermentation process, which is a natural carbonation process. When carbon dioxide is dissolved into a liquid, you get carbonation. The yeasts in kombucha brews break down the sugar to produce alcohol and CO2. You cover the kombucha with a cloth in the first fermentation to allow the CO2 to escape. In the second fermentation, the kombucha is sealed in air-tight bottles to trap the CO2 in the kombucha.

Can I just add more honey to my elderberry syrup?

The sugar in honey can certainly help; however, it’s now low enough in pH, food safety standard-wise. Adding more honey will change the flavor to something uber sweet, add more sugar to your diet (albeit, much better than processed sugars) and increase the overall cost to make elderberry syrup. Fun fact: honey is the most expensive ingredient in making this herbal remedy!

Conclusion

Can elderberry syrup go bad? If it is left outside the refrigerator and freezer long enough, then it definitely will. However, there are creative ways to preserve elderberry syrup while storing it in the fridge or freezer. Elderberry syrup is a flexible medicine to use in just about any drink. If you would like to try elderberry syrup, feel free to purchase our elderberry syrup product!

References:

¹ Emilia Michou, Aliya Mastan, Saira Ahmed, Satish Mistry, Shaheen Hamdy (July 25, 2012) Examining the role of carbonation and temperature on water swallowing performance: a swallowing reaction-time study PubMed.gov https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22843761/

² A.N. Acharya, S. Mirza, N.S. Jones (September 25, 2006) Ice cold carbonated water: a therapy for persistent hyperawareness of pharyngeal mucus and throat clearing PubMed.gov https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16995969/

³ Katie Wells (January 21, 2015) Elderberry Kombucha Soda Recipe WellnessMama.com https://wellnessmama.com/26618/elderberry-kombucha-soda/

⁴ Nevin Sanlier, Büşra Başar Gökcen, Aybüke Ceyhun Sezgin (October 20, 2017) Health benefits of fermented foods PubMed.gov https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28945458/

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