Gochujang is a staple condiment in Korean cuisine. This thick, pungent red chili paste packs a spicy, sweet, and savory punch. Gochujang is made from glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, salt, and chili peppers. The ingredients are combined and left to ferment for months or even years, allowing complex flavors to develop.
But like any perishable food, gochujang has a shelf life. So does gochujang go bad? Here’s what you need to know about gochujang expiration, storage, and signs of spoilage.
How Long Does Gochujang Last?
With proper storage, gochujang can keep well for 1-2 years past the printed expiration date. Here are the shelf life details:
- Unopened gochujang lasts about 1-2 years at room temperature. Keep it in a cool, dry pantry away from heat and sunlight.
- Once opened, store gochujang in the refrigerator. It will maintain the best quality for about 1 year.
The longer gochujang ferments, the longer it lasts. Some artisanal batches fermented for 3-5 years can keep even longer. Refrigeration and an airtight container are key for extending shelf life after opening.
How to Tell If Gochujang Has Gone Bad
Gochujang boasts a long shelf life when stored properly. But eventually, it will show signs of spoilage. Here’s what to look for:
- Mold growth - If you see fuzzy patches or film on the surface, toss it.
- Changes in texture - Fresh gochujang should be smoothly viscous. Discard if it becomes too thin and watery or has an odd lumpy texture.
- Strange colors - Gochujang naturally darkens over time. But abnormal colors like green, yellow, or white specks indicate spoilage.
- Off odors - A spoiled, rancid, or vinegary smell means it’s time to say goodbye.
- Bitter taste - Small taste test if you’re unsure. Foul, bitter, or metallic flavors signal gochujang has gone bad.
If you notice any of these signs, your gochujang has likely spoiled. Err on the side of caution and discard it.
Storing Gochujang Properly
To get the most out of your gochujang, proper storage is key. Here are some tips:
- Store unopened gochujang in a cool, dry pantry away from direct sunlight and sources of heat.
- Once opened, transfer the gochujang to an airtight glass or plastic container. Mason jars work great.
- Refrigerate after opening to extend shelf life. The cold temperature helps slow fermentation and bacteria growth.
- Use a clean spoon each time you scoop to prevent cross-contamination. Never double-dip into the jar.
- Freeze gochujang in ice cube trays if you don’t use it often. Thaw cubes as needed.
- Check for any signs of spoilage before using, especially if it’s been lingering in your fridge for a while.
Does Gochujang Need Refrigeration?
Refrigeration is highly recommended for gochujang once opened. The fermented chili paste lasts significantly longer chilled in the fridge versus left out at room temperature.
Unopened gochujang keeps fine in the pantry due to its high salt content. But refrigeration will extend its shelf life even further.
So go ahead and refrigerate unopened gochujang if you want it to keep as long as possible. Just allow it to come to room temperature before opening to prevent condensation inside the container.
Once exposed to air, refrigeration is a must. The cold temperature retards fermentation and bacteria growth, keeping your gochujang fresh for about 1 year after opening.
Common Changes in Gochujang
Some changes in gochujang over time are perfectly normal. Here’s what to expect:
- Darkening in color - A deeper, darker red is normal as gochujang oxidizes during storage.
- Separation - Oil may separate and rise to the top. Simply stir or shake before using.
- Thickening texture - The paste will thicken over time as moisture evaporates.
- Stronger flavor - The spicy, sweet, and savory notes become more intense with age.
As long as there’s no mold, off smells, or colors, these changes won’t affect safety or quality. Your gochujang is likely still good to enjoy.
Can You Freeze Gochujang?
Freezing is a great way to prolong the shelf life of gochujang. To freeze:
- Transfer gochujang to an airtight freezer-safe container, leaving 1⁄2 inch of headspace.
- Freeze for up to 1 year. Thaw in the refrigerator before using.
- For longer storage, freeze in ice cube trays. Pop out cubes and store them in a bag. Thaw what you need.
- Expect some separation after thawing frozen gochujang. Simply stir before using.
Freezing changes gochujang’s texture slightly, but its spicy-sweet flavors remain. Frozen gochujang keeps well for 1 year and is convenient for small batches.
Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about gochujang:
How spicy is gochujang?
Gochujang spice levels vary by brand. It ranges from mild to fiery hot. Check for words like “mild” or “hot” on the label.
What is the white stuff on gochujang?
The white film is simply dried gochujang. It's harmless. Stir the paste before using.
What's the difference between gochujang and sriracha?
While both are spicy condiments, gochujang has deep umami notes while sriracha is hotter with more vinegar tang.
Can I substitute sriracha for gochujang?
In a pinch, you can substitute sriracha cut with a bit of molasses to mimic gochujang's sweetness. But the flavors won't be an exact match.
Does gochujang need to be organic?
No, organic is not necessary. What matters most is buying an authentic Korean brand for the proper tangy, fermented flavor.
How do you use up gochujang fast?
Does gochujang go bad? Yes, the spicy Korean chili paste does eventually spoil. But with proper refrigerated storage, an unopened jar can last 1-2 years past its printed expiration date. An opened jar keeps for about 1 year in the fridge.
Check your gochujang for mold, odors, separation, or other signs of spoilage before using. And stick to best practices like refrigeration and clean utensils to extend its shelf life.