In a Nutshell:
- Shelf life: 2+ years unopened, 1 year after opening for best quality
- Spoilage signs: off smell, mold, discolored or watery texture
- Storage: cool, dark place (unopened); airtight container in the fridge (opened)
Worried about that jar of leftover gochujang lurking in the back of your fridge? Or maybe you’ve been wanting to try your hand at cooking Korean food but don’t know much about the shelf life of gochujang?
Well, you’ve come to the right place!
In this article, we’ll dish out the spicy details on how to tell if your gochujang paste or sauce has gone bad and the best ways to store it to keep it fresh for all your Korean cuisine adventures.
Gochujang is typically available as a paste or sauce. The sauce is simply a combination of paste, oil, and some extra spices and seasonings. The paste looks similar to tomato paste, while the sauce is quite similar to hot sauce.
Let’s dive right in.
Table of Contents
- How Long Does Gochujang Last?
- What Affects Gochujang Shelf Life?
- How to Tell If Gochujang Is Bad?
- Don’t Panic: These Changes Are Normal
- Does Gochujang Need to Be Refrigerated?
- How to Store Gochujang
How Long Does Gochujang Last?
Unopened gochujang has a shelf life of 2+ years and easily lasts months beyond the expiration date. After opening, gochujang sauce or paste retains quality for about a year or until the printed date, depending on what comes later.
That’s the bird’s eye view. Next, let’s dive into the details.
Store-bought gochujang paste, like many other condiments such as fish sauce, soy sauce, and oyster sauce, has a pretty long shelf life when unopened. It can last months past its expiry date if you store it in a cool, dark place.
Does that mean you can consume expired gochujang?
Yes, the “expiration” date on the label is only a conservative estimate of how long the fermented condiment should retain best quality. And that has little to do with food safety.
As long as your gochujang doesn’t show any signs of spoilage (which we cover later in the article), it should be perfectly fine to use.
Once you crack open that container or jar of gochujang, you get about a year of great quality if you store the leftovers sealed tightly in the fridge.
Thanks to its ingredients, such as fermented soybeans, glutinous rice, chili paste, and salt, gochujang will stay safe for much longer. But it won’t last forever as its quality will slowly deteriorate over time.
(The ingredients above are typical for traditional gochujang, but some brands use cheaper substitutes. But no matter the exact ingredients list, the condiment lasts quite some time.)
What Affects Gochujang Shelf Life?
To ensure the longest possible shelf life, store it in a cool, dark place when unopened, and in an airtight container in the fridge once opened.
Quality of Ingredients
Like balsamic vinegar, the quality of ingredients used in making gochujang can affect its shelf life.
Higher-quality ingredients often result in a longer-lasting product. So, don’t be afraid to invest in a premium brand for your Korean cuisine needs, especially if you know the jar might sit in the fridge for quite some time!
Now that you know all about the shelf life of gochujang and what affects it, let’s move on to the signs of spoilage so you know when it’s time to say goodbye to your expired gochujang.
How to Tell If Gochujang Is Bad?
To quickly determine if gochujang has gone bad, check for an off smell, mold growth, changes in texture, or weird taste. If either is there, assume your gochujang has gone bad.
The first sign that your gochujang may not be good anymore is if it starts to smell weird.
If you get a whiff of something funky or sour when you open the container or bottle, it’s time to say goodbye.
Mold growth is a clear sign that your gochujang is no longer safe to eat. If you spot any fuzzy or discolored patches, as you might see on expired tomato paste or horseradish, it’s best to toss the entire thing.
When gochujang has turned bad, its texture may change. If it becomes watery, lumpy, or unusually thick, it’s time to replace it with a new jar, just like you would with old mayonnaise or tartar sauce.
Of course, if you leave your gochujang sauce unsealed for prolonged periods, it might become slightly thicker due to evaporation, and that’s not an issue.
If your gochujang has a strange or off-taste, similar to when you try an old salad dressing or spoiled mustard, it’s a sure sign that it’s no longer safe to use. Always do a taste test before adding the condiment to your dishes.
Now that we’ve covered the signs of spoilage, let’s talk about some changes in gochujang that might seem concerning but are actually okay.
Don’t Panic: These Changes Are Normal
Gochujang might darken or turn slightly brown over time, similar to what can happen with anchovy paste or cocktail sauce. This is due to the natural oxidation process and not a spoilage sign.
As long as there’s no mold growth or off smell, you’ve got fresh gochujang on your hands.
Gochujang sauce may separate over time, with oil rising to the top. This is normal and can be fixed by giving it a good stir with a clean spoon.
That’s also why many bottles suggest shaking before using the fermented soybeans and chili paste condiment.
Raised Dimple on the Lid
You might notice that the dimple of the lid on your jar of gochujang is raised, and you might be wondering if it’s safe to eat. Don’t worry!
Unlike with other condiments where a raised dimple could indicate bacteria, a raised dimple on gochujang jars is caused by off-gassing from healthy fermentation bacteria, leading to pressure build-up under the lid.
This off-gassing varies from jar to jar, so seeing different dimple positions is normal.
Leaking Unopened Jar
If you have an unopened jar of gochujang that’s leaking down the side, you might be concerned about its safety. Fortunately, there’s no need to worry.
Gochujang is a living food, and it continues to ferment in the jar over time. Leakage isn’t a sign of a faulty product; instead, it signals that the healthy bacteria in the gochujang are actively fermenting and the product is “trying to escape” from the jar.
If it happens to you more than once, I suggest storing unopened gochujang in a cooler place or even in the fridge.
With this knowledge in hand, you’ll be able to confidently determine if your gochujang is still good to use or if it’s time to replace it.
Does Gochujang Need to Be Refrigerated?
Unopened gochujang doesn’t need refrigeration, but once opened, it’s best to store it in the fridge. This way, the Korean condiment will retain quality for much longer.
Just like unopened bottles of rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar, unopened gochujang is perfectly fine at room temperature. It can be stored in a cool, dark place like a pantry or cupboard, away from heat and direct sunlight.
Once you’ve opened your jar of gochujang, it’s a different story. Similar to opened bottles of Dijon mustard or mayonnaise, refrigeration is the best way to keep your gochujang fresh.
It helps maintain its flavor, color, and overall quality, ensuring that you’ll always have fresh gochujang ready for your next culinary adventure.
Now that we know the importance of refrigeration, let’s explore how to store gochujang properly.
How to Store Gochujang
Storing gochujang properly is crucial to preserve its flavor, color, and shelf life. Here are some tips to help you store your gochujang like a pro!
Transferring your gochujang into a resealable container or ensuring the original jar is sealed tightly will help prevent exposure to air, which can cause spoilage and flavor degradation.
Keep It Clean
When using your gochujang, always use clean spoons to avoid introducing bacteria or contaminants into the container. This simple practice will help ensure your gochujang stays fresh and tasty for longer.