Do you have leftover gochujang that you forgot to finish? Then you might want to closely inspect it for signs of spoilage before eating it!
Does gochujang go bad? Yes, even though gochujang is fermented and has a high-salt content, it can go bad in the wrong conditions. Poorly stored or unrefrigerated gochujang will pose a higher risk than sealed or properly stored chili paste.
Learn more about gochujang paste, how it is made, how it is fermented, and how it is used and stored!
What Is Gochujang?
Gochujang is a fermented red chili paste that comes from Korea.
It has a lot of culinary value in Korean cuisine and is widely known as a highly versatile spice mix that can be enjoyed on its own or with other foods like tteokbokki.
The reason why gochujang is so revered is because of its highly complex and delicious flavor.
On its own, the paste provides not just spicy but also sweet and savory notes thanks to its unique blend of ingredients.
Here is a list of ingredients for a traditional batch of delicious gochujang:
- Ground dried red pepper
- Fermented dry soybean powder
- Cooked sticky rice
- Dark soy sauce
- Sea salt
Gochujang is also made in other, commercial ways too.
There are several varieties of this paste available in the market. For example, the commercial variety that is available outside of Korea will typically contain a long list of stabilizers and other additives that work as substitutes for the traditional ingredients.
These adulterated and “shortcut” spice pastes may possess the ability to resist bacterial growth but they will need to be stored extra carefully to get the most out of their shelf life.
If you’re thinking about making your own gochujang, take a look at this tutorial from Yeung Man Cooking on YouTube.
What Makes Gochujang So Resilient?
You may have noticed that the traditional recipe for this paste calls for soy sauce, malt, and a lot of salt.
These ingredients are important because it allows the paste the ferment – and also enables it to have a longer than usual shelf life.
A typical batch of traditional gochujang is usually fermented for a minimum of six months before it is deemed ready to eat – but the paste can also be left to ferment for up to 5 years! The longer it ferments, the more flavor it will develop.
But if gochujang can survive five years of fermentation, then it can surely also sit on your shelf for the same period without going bad, right?
See, traditional gochujang is made using the same best practices that are required to ferment other foods – meaning that the barrels are usually kept under surveillance and follow a lot of safety and quality protocols.
Even when making gochujang at home, most experienced chefs will keep a close eye on the environmental factors before fermenting the paste and will store it accordingly too.
In the case of commercial or localized gochujang, the ingredients might be slightly different which can lead to varying storage times. Most of the time, manufacturers will add more sodium to counter this.
The high salt content of this paste gives it a natural edge! Salt has a very useful property where it discourages bacterial growth and aids in fermentation.
Keep in mind that salt does not directly kill bacteria – rather, its ability to dehydrate organic matter is what destroys bacterial cells which leads to longer shelf life.
But even with its tenacity for deterring bacterial growth gochujang still requires an expiration date.
Why Does Gochujang Have An Expiration Date?
If you have shopped for gochujang, then you might have noticed a date at the back of the packaging along with storage information.
This particular date is known as the “best before” date and is different from the expiration date.
In the right conditions, fermented foods will not go bad, just like properly stored frozen foods.
But these shelf-stable foods usually have a best-before date that indicates how long the product will taste fresh without going bad.
Some gochujang products may also have an expiration date but you are more likely to see the expiry date on artificial gochujang paste products rather than traditional varieties.
Please always follow the indications mentioned for your particular gochujang product.
Every manufacturer has a different approach when it comes to making hot chili paste which is why you should strictly follow the best before or expiry date mentioned on the back.
You might even find an authentic gochujang paste that will indicate that the product will not go bad in the traditional sense but may ripen or deepen in color over time.
Here is an authentic and popular gochujang paste that is known to be shelf-stable and is made from high-quality ingredients.
Gochujang Health Risks And Tips
Nature has a way of keeping a balance. Just as salt kills most bacteria by sucking out the water from the cells, some bacteria can overcome this effect too.
These special organisms are called halotolerant bacteria – and they not only survive but thrive and multiply in salty environments. Naturally, they also pose a serious health risk in humans too.
Bacteria such as S. aureus, Bacillus cereus, and V. cholerae produce copious amounts of toxins that lead to food poisoning!
But the truth is, there are a lot of things that need to go wrong for the bacteria to overgrow and take over the quality of gochujang.
The quickest way gochujang may go bad is if it is kept in a humid or hot environment for a long time. If you have the habit of leaving condiments out, especially on a hot summer day, then you are just asking for trouble!
Nothing encourages bacterial growth more than humidity and heat. But if you were to control these two factors, then you might just be able to keep the product safe for years!
Normally, gochujang must be refrigerated at 40°F after the tub has been opened. Try to keep the product back in the fridge within 30-60 minutes for maximum freshness and quality.
A great way to maximize its freshness is to shift the majority of the paste into an airtight container and just leave some of the paste in the tub for day-to-day use.
Periodically fill up the tub by using the stored paste – this method will significantly reduce oxidative stress.
Keep in mind that the more the product is exposed to hot air, the more it will oxidize and lose its natural flavor notes – so keep it sealed!
How To Tell When Gochujang Has Gone Bad
Here are a few important signs of spoilage:
While it is normal for gochujang paste to get darker over time due to ripening and oxidization, you should be wary of the overall color changes of the paste.
A darker shade of red might be acceptable but anything out of this shade should be closely inspected.
If you notice a green, yellow, gray, or white tint over the sauce, then you might want to discard all of it. Please check the paste thoroughly by moving some of the contents around to check all of the sauce instead of just the superficial layer.
Freshly opened gochujang paste will be highly viscous and may also feel a bit firm. If you notice a runnier consistency or if the paste has a layer of oil over it, then this might indicate that the paste has gone bad.
A great way to quickly check the consistency of the paste would be to stick a spoon into it. If the spoon stands vertically on its own, then the viscosity of the gochujang will be considered normal.
If the spoon falls on either side and the paste “runs off” the spoon, then you may want to check for other signs of spoilage.
Foul Odor And Bitter Flavor
A foul odor is usually a dead giveaway when it comes to spoiled gochujang paste. Open up the tub and take a whiff. If you notice sour or foul notes, then you should avoid consuming the paste.
Even if the paste does not show any of the mentioned signs, you can easily tell if it has gone bad by taking a taste test.
Gochujang will never have bitter or overly sour flavor notes, so if you notice anything off, then just spit out the paste, rinse your mouth and discard the tub.
Gochujang may be able to survive for up to two years in the fridge but it is still susceptible to spoilage, especially if it isn’t stored the right way.
Now that you know all about how to store gochujang, here are some related questions:
Can you freeze gochujang?
Yes. Gochujang can be frozen at 0°F and will usually remain edible as long as it is kept frozen!
But we wouldn’t recommend freezing this paste because it may change its texture once it is thawed. Repeated cycles of thawing and refreezing may also cause the gochujang to go bad!
Can you eat a 3-year-old gochujang tub?
An unopened tub of properly stored gochujang will remain edible for up to 24 months.
But if you were to open it after 24 months, you might not get the same great flavor and texture as fresh gochujang, especially in the case of commercial varieties – and in some cases, it may even start to go bad after 24 months.
Please avoid eating three-year-old gochujang regardless of how you store it.