Does Gochujang Go Bad?

Does Gochujang Go Bad

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 does gochujang go bad or 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 a flavorful Korean fermented chili paste that adds a delightful kick to dishes like bibimbap, Korean fried chicken, and tteokbokki. But this versatile condiment doesn’t last forever. Knowing when it’s past its prime can mean the difference between a tasty meal and a not-so-pleasant culinary experience.

Get ready to become a gochujang guru! We’ll cover everything from signs of spoilage to storage tips, so you can confidently use this beloved Korean staple without any worries. Let’s dive in!

What Is Gochujang?

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of gochujang’s shelf life, let’s take a moment to appreciate this Korean culinary gem. Gochujang (also spelled kochujang) is a thick, fermented condiment made from red chili peppers, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt.

Gochujang is typically available as a paste or sauce. The paste looks similar to tomato paste, with a sticky, concentrated texture. The sauce, on the other hand, is a bit more fluid and pourable, similar to hot sauce. It’s essentially a combination of the paste, vegetable oil or sesame oil, and some extra spices and seasonings.

This savory, spicy, and slightly sweet condiment has been a staple in Korean cuisine for centuries. Its versatility means it can be used as a base for making stews and braises, like the iconic budae jjigae (army base stew), or as a marinade for grilled meats. You can also use it to add depth of flavor to dipping sauces, dressings, and marinades.

Gochujang owes its distinct flavor profile to the fermentation process, which can take several years for traditional varieties. This aging process not only develops the complex taste but also gives gochujang its superpower ability to last for a surprisingly long time when stored properly.

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 its 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.

Unopened Gochujang

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.

This long-lasting nature makes it a reliable staple for your Korean food adventures, just like a trusty bottle of hoisin sauce or teriyaki sauce in your pantry.

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.

After Opening

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.)

So while an unopened jar can keep for years, once exposed to air, gochujang has a more limited shelf life of around 12 months in the fridge. Not too shabby for a fermented paste!

What Affects Gochujang Shelf Life?

While gochujang can last a surprisingly long time, its shelf life isn’t infinite. Several factors can influence how long your jar or bottle of this Korean chili paste will stay fresh and flavorful.

Storage Conditions

Like most condiments, gochujang is sensitive to light, heat, and air exposure – the trifecta of shelf life saboteurs!

To ensure the longest possible shelf life, it’s crucial to store unopened gochujang in a cool, dark place like a pantry or cabinet, away from direct sunlight and heat sources. Once opened, transfer any leftovers to an airtight container and keep it refrigerated.

Exposure to warm temperatures and light can cause the paste or sauce to deteriorate faster, leading to off-flavors, discoloration, and textural changes. And oxygen is the enemy of many foods, causing oxidation and allowing microbes to flourish.

Quality of Ingredients

Like balsamic vinegar or extra virgin olive oil, the quality of ingredients used in making gochujang can affect its shelf life and overall longevity.

Traditional, artisanal gochujang made with high-quality chili peppers, fermented soybeans, and glutinous rice tends to last longer than mass-produced varieties that use lower-quality or artificial ingredients.

So don’t be afraid to invest in a premium, well-crafted brand if you want your gochujang to maintain its vibrant flavor for as long as possible, especially if you know the jar might sit in the fridge for quite some time!

Fermentation Duration

The length of the fermentation process can also play a role in a gochujang’s shelf life. Traditionally, authentic gochujang is fermented over years, allowing the flavors to develop and mature.

This extended fermentation results in a more stable product with a higher concentration of preservative compounds like alcohol and acid. These act as natural preservatives, giving properly fermented gochujang an edge when it comes to longevity.

Mass-produced gochujang may use shortcuts like adding vinegar or preservatives to mimic the taste of long-fermented varieties. While this can extend shelf life, it may not reach the levels of a slow-aged, artisanal product.

Now that you know what factors can impact gochujang’s shelf life, it’s time to learn the telltale signs that your jar has gone bad and needs to be replaced.

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.

Now let’s dive into each of these signs, so you know when to toss your gochujang and reach for sriracha or Tabasco sauce if you don’t have a spare bottle.

Off Smell

The first sign that your gochujang may not be good anymore is if it starts to smell weird.

Fresh gochujang has a pleasantly spicy, slightly funky aroma from the fermentation. But if you get a whiff of something funky or sour in an unpleasant way when you open the container or bottle, it’s time to say goodbye.

An off, vinegary, or rotten smell is a surefire indicator that your gochujang has spoiled and harmful bacteria may be present.

Mold Growth

Mold growth is another clear sign that your gochujang is no longer safe to eat. If you spot any fuzzy patches, discoloration, or dots of mold on the surface, as you might see on expired tomato paste or horseradish, it’s best to toss the entire thing.

Mold can spread quickly and produce mycotoxins that can make you ill. Don’t take any chances – when you see mold, it’s time for the gochujang to go in the trash.

Texture Changes

When gochujang has turned bad, its texture may change in noticeable ways. If it becomes watery, lumpy, or unusually thick compared to when you first opened it, that’s not a good sign.

A texture that has separated, curdled, or taken on an abnormal appearance is a red flag, just like you would see with old mayonnaise, salad dressing or tartar sauce that has spoiled.

Of course, if you leave your gochujang sauce jar unsealed for prolonged periods, it might become slightly thicker due to evaporation, and that’s not necessarily an issue.

Weird Taste

Finally, don’t forget to use your tastebuds as a guide! If your gochujang has developed a strange, off-putting, or acidic taste that’s noticeably different from its usual savory, spicy, slightly sweet flavor, it’s a sure sign that it’s no longer safe or palatable to use.

Always do a quick taste test by dipping a clean spoon into the gochujang before adding it to your dish. If it tastes wrong, trust your gut (and tastebuds) and discard it.

Don’t Panic: These Changes Are Normal

Does Gochujang Go Bad

As gochujang ages, it can undergo some changes in appearance and texture that might seem concerning at first glance. But don’t panic! Several of these transformations are totally normal and don’t necessarily mean your jar has spoiled.

Color Changes

You may notice that your gochujang darkens or turns a deeper reddish-brown color over time. This is due to normal oxidation and isn’t a sign of spoilage.

Gochujang’s bright red hue comes from the chili peppers used to make it. As the paste or sauce is exposed to air, the pigments in those chili peppers can change shades gradually.

As long as there’s no mold growth, off smell, or other obvious signs of spoilage, a slightly darker color is no cause for concern. It’s just your gochujang naturally aging.


Another perfectly normal (and actually expected) change is some separation or “weeping” of the oil and liquid in gochujang sauces.

You might notice a reddish oil rising to the top of the bottle or paste, with the thicker, more concentrated portion sinking to the bottom.

This separation happens because the different densities of the ingredients allow them to separate over time. It’s similar to what you might see with natural peanut butter.

No need to fret! A simple stir with a clean utensil will re-incorporate the oil and solids back into one delicious, spicy, homogeneous mixture.

In fact, many gochujang brands instruct you to shake or stir the bottle before using for this very reason. It’s just part of the fermented condiment’s nature.

Raised Dimple on the Lid

You might notice that the dimple or bubble on the lid of your sealed jar is raised up instead of staying flat or concave. This can seem alarming, making you wonder if bacteria growth is making the jar bulge.

But have no fear! A raised dimple is totally normal and expected for gochujang.

Gochujang contains live fermentation bacteria that continue doing their job even once the jar is sealed. Their active metabolism creates gas byproducts, which can cause pressure to build up and push against the lid from the inside.

As long as the seal itself looks intact with no leaks or other issues, a raised bubble on top is simply evidence that your gochujang is still “alive” and full of those flavorful fermentation cultures!

Leaking Unopened Jar

Speaking of an active fermentation culture, you may have experienced an unopened jar of gochujang leaking down the side before. While it seems alarming at first, this isn’t actually a sign that the product is faulty or contaminated.

Remember, gochujang is a living food full of lactic acid bacteria that keep fermenting over time. In the sealed jar, these cultures produce gas buildup that can force some of the paste out through the lid.

This continuous fermentation process speeds up in warmer temperatures. So a bit of leakage from an unopened gochujang jar, while messy, is just a sign that those hard-working microbes are doing their job!

If it keeps happening to the same jar, you may want to store it in a cooler, dark spot to slow down fermentation until you’re ready to crack it open.

Does Gochujang Need to Be Refrigerated?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions about storing gochujang – does it require refrigeration, or can you keep it at room temperature? The answer depends on whether the jar or bottle is unopened or already opened.

Unopened Gochujang

If you haven’t cracked the seal on your jar or bottle of gochujang yet, there’s no need to refrigerate it. The fermented chili paste is shelf-stable and can safely sit in your pantry or kitchen cabinet until you’re ready to use it.

Thanks to the preservative effects of salt and fermentation, unopened gochujang has an extremely long shelf life at room temperature, often lasting 2-3 years or longer past its printed date if stored properly.

However, it’s still best to keep unopened gochujang in a cool, dark spot like the pantry rather than on the kitchen counter or in direct sunlight. Heat and light exposure can degrade the paste faster.

Opened Gochujang

Once you break the seal and scoop some gochujang out, the game changes. At this point, refrigeration is highly recommended to maximize its shelf life and prevent spoilage.

When exposed to air and moisture, the lactic acid bacteria that allowed gochujang to ferment and stay preserved can eventually cause it to spoil instead. Storing opened jars or bottles in the fridge helps slow this process way down.

In the fridge, an opened bottle of gochujang paste or sauce can typically last 6-12 months with little loss in quality or flavor. Leave it at room temperature once opened, and you’ll likely need to toss it within a few weeks once mold and off-flavors develop.

The main exception is if you’re using up your opened gochujang relatively quickly, like within a few days or a week. Then keeping it at a cooler room temp for that short period is okay.

But for any leftovers you plan to hang onto for a while, refrigeration is essential for ensuring maximum freshness and longevity of your beloved Korean chili paste!

How to Store Gochujang

Proper storage is key to ensuring your gochujang stays fresh and flavorful for as long as possible. Follow these simple tips, and you’ll get maximum mileage out of every jar.

Use an Airtight Container

Air is the enemy when it comes to keeping gochujang fresh after opening. Oxygen exposure causes oxidation and allows molds and bacteria to grow more easily.

For this reason, it’s best to transfer your gochujang to an airtight container after opening rather than just replacing the lid on the original packaging. Look for food-safe glass, plastic, or silicone containers with tight-fitting lids.

Mason jars make an excellent choice for storing opened gochujang – they seal out air while letting you easily scoop out portions. If using the original bottle or jar, be sure the lid has an airtight seal.

Get in the habit of always securely sealing gochujang after each use to limit unnecessary air exposure between uses.

Keep It Clean

Cross-contamination from utensils can introduce bacteria and molds that accelerate spoilage. Always use a clean, dry spoon or other utensil when scooping out portions of gochujang.

Avoid double-dipping with utensils that have been in contact with other foods, as this can transfer microbes into your gochujang. The same goes for your hands – make sure to wash them thoroughly before reaching into the gochujang container.

Wipe away any splashes or drips from around the lid or jar rim with a clean paper towel. This helps prevent spoilage microbes from getting inside.

A little cleanliness goes a long way in maximizing the shelf life of your opened gochujang paste or sauce!

Refrigerate After Opening

As we covered earlier, refrigeration is essential once you open a jar or bottle of gochujang. The cool temperature helps slow down the growth of molds, yeasts, and bacteria that can spoil the condiment.

Keep your opened gochujang chilled at 40°F or below. Avoid storing it in the warmest areas of the fridge like the door shelves, as frequent temperature fluctuations from opening and closing can degrade it faster.

Try to give your gochujang its own spot towards the back of a fridge shelf where temperatures are most consistent. And be sure to refrigerate after each use – don’t leave it sitting out at room temperature for extended periods.

Bonus Tip: Avoid Contamination

While not strictly necessary for storage, it’s best to avoid adding any ingredients or seasonings directly to your jar of gochujang. Introducing extra moisture, particles, or microbes can potentially cause spoilage or shorten its shelf life.

If you want to tweak the flavor, scoop out just the amount you need into a separate bowl to mix in additional ingredients like sesame oil, vinegar, honey, garlic, ginger, etc. This prevents contaminating the full jar.


How can I tell if unopened gochujang is still good?

Check the expiration date, but keep in mind that unopened gochujang can last well beyond that date if stored properly. Look for signs of bulging, leaking, or offensive odors that may indicate spoilage before using old jars.

Can you freeze gochujang to extend its shelf life?

Yes, freezing is an excellent way to prolong the life of opened gochujang. Transfer portions to an airtight freezer-safe container and it can keep for 6-12 months frozen. Thaw in the refrigerator before using.

Is it okay to use gochujang after the expiration date?

As long as there are no obvious signs of spoilage like mold, bad odors, or off-flavors, unopened gochujang should be safe to use for quite some time after the printed date. Use your best judgment.

How long does opened gochujang last at room temperature?

For optimal shelf life, refrigerate opened gochujang. Left at room temp, it will only last 1-3 weeks before beginning to spoil. The fridge can extend it to 6-12 months.

Does gochujang need to be refrigerated before opening?

No, unopened jars and bottles of gochujang are shelf-stable and can be kept in a cool, dark pantry until opened. Refrigeration is only required after the seal is broken.

Can homemade gochujang go bad?

Yes, homemade versions can spoil just like commercial gochujang if not stored correctly. Refrigeration is recommended, and it won’t last nearly as long as store-bought varieties.

Can gochujang be frozen?

Yes, freezing is an excellent way to extend the shelf life of gochujang for long-term storage. Transfer portions to an airtight freezer-safe container, leaving some headspace for expansion. Gochujang can keep for 6-12 months frozen. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.

Is it safe to consume expired gochujang?

While not recommended if the gochujang shows signs of spoilage, unopened jars past their printed dates are generally safe to consume in moderation if the seal is intact and there are no bulges or leaks. Use your best judgment on quality.

What’s the white sediment in my gochujang?

A harmless white sediment can sometimes form in the bottom of gochujang jars or bottles. This is simply rice solids from the fermented rice element of gochujang. It’s natural and can be mixed back in before using.

Can you substitute gochujang for other chili pastes?

In a pinch, you can substitute gochujang for other thick chili pastes like sambal oelek or harissa. The flavors won’t be exactly the same but can provide a similar fermented, savory kick. Add a touch of vinegar and sweetener to better mimic gochujang’s taste.

How long can you keep gochujang sauce after opening?

The shelf life of opened gochujang sauce is a bit shorter than the paste form, typically only 4-6 months refrigerated before quality starts to deteriorate. The extra liquid dilution allows spoilage to happen faster.

Does gochujang need to be cooked?

No, gochujang does not require cooking as it’s already fully fermented and shelf-stable. It can be used raw as a condiment or ingredient. However, cooking it can further unlock and mellow its rich, complex flavors.


Gochujang may be a Korean pantry staple, but its incredible shelf life means you can always have this fermented chili paste on hand to add a punch of savory, sweet, and spicy flavor to your dishes.

Thanks to the preservative powers of fermentation, salt, and other ingredients, unopened jars of gochujang can keep for years past their printed dates when stored properly. And even after opening, you get a generous 6-12 month fridge life before quality starts to degrade.

As long as you watch for obvious signs of spoilage like mold, off-odors, and funky flavors or textures, your gochujang should maintain its vibrant taste for quite a while. Just be sure to always store it in an airtight container in the fridge after opening.

With its longevity and versatility in everything from marinades to stews to sauces, gochujang deserves a permanent spot in your kitchen. A little bit of this Korean fermented treasure goes a long way towards adding an addictive savory punch to your cooking.

So don’t be afraid to stock up! Gochujang’s spicy burn and depth of flavor is built to last, making it an investment that will keep paying off with deliciousness for months or even years to come.

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