Enhanced aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH) activity has been shown to serve as a hallmark for cancer stem cells (CSCs). Recent evidence suggests that its role as a stem cell-related marker has come down to the specific isoform. However, little is known about the specific ALDH isoform contributing to aldefluor activity in gastric cancer. In this study, we isolated ALDHbright cells from 2 human gastric cancer cell lines MKN-45 and SGC‑7901 by using an Aldefluor assay and found elevated self-renewal, differentiation and tumorigenicity, as demonstration of stemness characteristics. We also found that ALDHbright cells expressed decreased levels of E-cadherin but increased levels of Snail and Vimentin, indication of an epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) phenotype which may be responsible for the enhanced metastatic potential. Since further research and prognostic application based on ALDH prevalence require the quantification of the specific ALDH isoform, we characterized the expression of all 19 ALDH isoforms in the sorted gastric cancer cell lines by quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR). Compared with the non-stem counterparts, robust upregulation of ALDH-3A1 was observed in these gastric cancer stem-like cells. Furthermore, we performed immunohistological analysis on 93 fixed patient gastric tumor samples and found that ALDH-3A1 expression correlated well with gastric cancer dysplasia and grades, differentiation, lymph node metastasis and cancer stage. Our data, therefore, provide strong evidence that ALDH-3A1 is a novel gastric cancer stem cell related marker with potential prognostic values and demonstrate a clear association between ALDH-3A1 prevalence and gastric cancer progression.