Shrimp paste, also known as belacan or fermented shrimp, is a staple ingredient in Southeast Asian cuisine. It adds a unique umami flavor to dishes and is often used in seafood, meat, and vegetable recipes.
But what happens when you open a jar or can of shrimp paste and don’t use it all at once? Does it expire? How long can you keep it in the fridge or on the shelf?
In this article, we’ll answer all your questions about the shelf life of shrimp paste and provide tips on how to store it properly to ensure maximum freshness and flavor.
So, let’s dive in!
Does Shrimp Paste Expire?
Shrimp paste is a fermented product that has a long shelf life due to its high salt content. Unopened shrimp paste can last for months or even years without refrigeration, but once opened, it should be stored in the fridge to maintain its freshness.
The general rule of thumb is that opened shrimp paste will last for about two weeks in the refrigerator. However, if you store it properly, it can last for up to six months. To ensure maximum freshness, wrap the slabs in plastic after each use and store them in an airtight container.
It’s important to note that shrimp paste can change color over time and become more concentrated, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that it has gone bad. As long as it smells and tastes okay, it should be safe to eat.
What Is Shrimp Paste?
Shrimp paste is a condiment commonly used in Southeast Asian and Southern Chinese cuisines. It is made by crushing or grinding fermented shrimp or krill mixed with salt, and then left to ferment for several weeks. The resulting paste can be sold in its wet form or sun-dried, and either cut into rectangular blocks or sold in bulk. The color of shrimp paste can range from pale pink to deep reddish-brown, depending on the country of origin and its processing.
Shrimp paste is an essential ingredient in many curries, sauces, sambals, and dips. It provides a salty, fishy flavor that adds depth and complexity to dishes. Shrimp paste can be found in many meals in Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. It is often used as a dip for fish or vegetables.
Traditionally, the preparation of shrimp paste dates back to the eighth century and has its roots in southern Thailand. The shrimp would be harvested, mixed with salt, and spread on bamboo mats to dry under the sun to transform into fermented shrimp paste. Once dried, the shrimp lasts for months. Naturally, the practice spread throughout neighboring countries; shrimp paste still represents an important industry in Southeast Asian countries.
Shrimp paste can come in different forms, from liquid sauces and thicker pastes to solid, dried blocks, depending on which culinary tradition the paste comes from. Each unique paste has a different name and different applications. These shrimp pastes can vary widely when it comes to salt level, smell, texture, and color.
How Long Does Shrimp Paste Last?
The shelf life of shrimp paste largely depends on whether it is opened or unopened. Unopened shrimp paste can last for a very long time, even without refrigeration. However, once the container has been opened, the paste should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator to maintain its freshness.
In the refrigerator, opened shrimp paste can last for up to two weeks. However, if you want to extend its shelf life, you can wrap the slabs in plastic after each use and store them in an airtight container. This will help to prevent odor leaks and maintain the paste’s quality for up to six months.
It’s worth noting that shrimp paste can change color over time due to its high concentration of salt and fermentation process. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it has gone bad. As long as the paste smells and tastes okay, it should be safe to consume.
Signs That Shrimp Paste Has Gone Bad
While shrimp paste can last for a long time, it can still go bad. Here are some signs to look out for:
1. Unpleasant odor: If the shrimp paste smells off or has a strong fishy smell, it may have gone bad. A fresh shrimp paste should have a mild salty scent similar to the sea.
2. Slimy texture: If the shrimp paste feels slimy or sticky, it may have gone bad. Fresh shrimp paste should feel smooth.
3. Change in color: If the shrimp paste has changed in color significantly, it may be an indication that it has gone bad. However, some color changes are normal due to the fermentation process.
4. Molds or other growths: If you see any molds or other growths on the surface of the shrimp paste, it is definitely spoiled and should be discarded.
5. Sour taste: If the shrimp paste has a sour taste, it may have gone bad.
It’s important to remember that consuming spoiled shrimp paste can lead to foodborne illness, so if you notice any of these signs, it’s best to discard the product and not take any chances.
Proper Storage Of Shrimp Paste
Proper storage of shrimp paste is crucial to maintaining its quality and flavor. Unopened shrimp paste can be stored in a cool, dry place without refrigeration for an extended period of time. However, once opened, it is important to store it properly to prevent spoilage.
Jarred shrimp paste is salted and fermented, making it last longer without refrigeration. However, it is recommended to store opened jars in the refrigerator to ensure the paste stays fresh for longer. Dried shrimp paste, on the other hand, does not require refrigeration and can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.
If you have purchased gkapi, which is a type of shrimp paste, remove the wax layer before using and always cook it before consumption. It is important to note that different batches of gkapi may vary in saltiness and shrimpiness, so adjustments may need to be made in recipes that call for it.
To extend the shelf life of opened shrimp paste, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap after each use and store it in an airtight container in the fridge. This will help prevent air from getting to the paste and causing it to spoil. Properly stored shrimp paste can last up to six months in the fridge.
Tips For Using Shrimp Paste In Cooking
Shrimp paste is a versatile ingredient that can add depth and complexity to a wide variety of dishes. Here are some tips for using shrimp paste in your cooking:
1. Start small: Shrimp paste is very potent, so it’s important to start with a small amount and adjust to taste. A little goes a long way, so use it sparingly.
2. Use it as a base: Shrimp paste can be used as a base for many sauces and curries. Try sautéing a spoonful in a hot wok with some oil until aromatic and using it as a foundation for fried rice or noodles.
3. Experiment with different cuisines: Shrimp paste is commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine, but it can also be used in other cuisines. Consider using it in lieu of anchovies as a base for Caesar salad dressing or tonnato sauce, or mixing it into meatballs or meatloaf for a deeper flavor.
4. Combine it with other flavors: Shrimp paste pairs well with garlic, ginger, curry, and other spices. Consider combining it with olive oil, butter, and garlic to coat spring vegetables before roasting.
5. Store it properly: Once opened, shrimp paste should be stored in the fridge to maintain its freshness. Wrap the slabs in plastic after each use and store them in an airtight container to ensure maximum freshness.
By following these tips, you can incorporate shrimp paste into your cooking and take advantage of its unique flavor profile.
Alternative Ingredients To Shrimp Paste
If you run out of shrimp paste or have dietary restrictions that prevent you from consuming shrimp, there are many alternative ingredients you can use instead. Here are some of the best substitutes for shrimp paste:
1. Fish Sauce: Fish sauce is a common ingredient found in most supermarkets’ Asian section. It is made from fermented seafood and has an intense salty flavor. While it won’t perfectly mimic the taste of shrimp paste, it can be a useful backup option. If you decide to use fish sauce, increase the quantity. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of shrimp paste, use 1-2 tablespoons of fish sauce instead.
2. Miso: Miso paste is an excellent vegetarian-friendly substitute for shrimp paste. Made from fermented soybeans, miso has a similarly savory taste and can be used in many of the same dishes. It is also much easier to find vegetarian-friendly brands of miso paste than shrimp paste.
3. Soy Sauce: Soy sauce is another common ingredient that can be used as a substitute for shrimp paste. However, it may not provide the same depth of flavor as shrimp paste, so you may need to adjust the quantity used in your recipe.
4. Anchovies: Anchovies are another seafood-based ingredient that can be used as a substitute for shrimp paste. They have a similar salty and umami flavor profile and can be added to dishes in small amounts.
5. Bonito Flakes: Bonito flakes are dried flakes of fermented fish that are commonly used in Japanese cuisine. They have a smoky, savory flavor and can be used as a substitute for shrimp paste in certain dishes.
6. Golden Mountain Sauce: This vegetarian-friendly sauce is made from soybeans and wheat flour and can be used as a substitute for shrimp paste in certain dishes.
7. Vegetarian Stir-Fry Sauce: There are many vegetarian stir-fry sauces available that can be used as a substitute for shrimp paste in certain dishes.
When substituting these ingredients for shrimp paste, it’s important to keep in mind that they may not provide the exact same flavor profile. You may need to adjust the quantity used or experiment with different combinations to achieve the desired taste.