Does chocolate go bad? That is a question with a long answer. The type, quality, and storage conditions of chocolate affect its shelf life. Let’s dig in and learn more about chocolate.
The shelf life of a food product is the period of time during which it will retain acceptable appearance, aroma, flavor and texture. Chocolate comes in various forms—cocoa, unsweetened, dark, semi-sweet, milk, ruby, white. Because each type of chocolate contains varying amounts of chocolate solids, cocoa butter and additives, the shelf life varies.
Chocolate is derived from the chocolate liquor of cacao beans and is rich in flavanols, a type of flavonoid specifically found in cocoa and chocolate. Flavanols are a natural preservative, preventing chocolate from going bad in the way that other perishable foods spoil. Further, the risk of microbiological growth in chocolate is very low as the water activity (aw), the amount of free water in a product which promotes microbial growth in food, is low and ranges between 0.3 and 0.4.
Chocolate usually comes with a “best buy” date which is a reflection of best quality, not food safety. While chocolate quality (texture, color, or flavor) may be affected after that date, it is safe to consume unless there are signs of spoilage—off odor, flavor, or appearance (mold).
Here’s a look at the various kinds of chocolate and shelf life of each:
Cocoa powder – Cocoa powder is the processed and ground product of the roasted cacao bean. The powder contains no fat or additives giving it a long or nearly indefinite shelf life. However, it may lose its potency. If properly stored, an unopened package of unsweetened cocoa powder has an indefinite shelf life. Once opened, cocoa powder will retain its best quality if used within 3 years of opening, provided it is stored properly and packaging is tight. The same is true for “Dutched “or Dutch-process cocoa.
Unsweetened, bitter, or baking chocolate – Chocolates by any of these names are pure solid chocolate liquor containing 50-58 percent cocoa butter with no added sugar or milk. When stored properly, the cocoa butter in baking chocolate is very stable, as it has undergone tempering which stabilizes the cocoa butter. Thus, baking chocolate has a long shelf life but is at best quality for 2 years.
Dark, semi-sweet and sweet chocolate – Chocolates in this group are dark chocolate and contain varying amounts of cocoa butter with the main difference being the amount of sugar and cocoa butter (15-70%) in each. The label may indicate a percent of cacao; the higher the cacao, the darker and more bitter the chocolate. Like baking chocolate, these chocolates, including chips, have a best-quality shelf life of at least 2 years. The higher the cacao percentage, the longer the chocolate tends to keep due to no- or less- milk and other perishable ingredients.
Milk chocolate – Milk chocolate contains at least 10 percent chocolate liquor plus milk solids and fats and sugar to give a sweet and creamy taste. For best quality, the shelf life is 1 year. The main reason milk chocolate has a shorter shelf life is because milk fat oxidizes and becomes rancid faster than cocoa butter.
Ruby chocolate – Made from ruby cacao beans, ruby chocolate has the most robust berry flavor in its first year but is safe to consume unless it molds. Ruby chocolate is sensitive to light, moisture, and heat causing fading and greying.
White chocolate – White chocolate consists of sugar, milk solids and fat, and 20 percent cocoa butter. Because it does not contain chocolate solids, it is not a true chocolate. Further, it does not contain the natural antioxidants of true chocolate, thereby making it prone to oxidation or rancidity when expose to light and air. As a result, white chocolate has a shelf life of about 6 months for best quality.
The shelf life of chocolate is dependent upon proper storage to preserve its flavor and appearance. These storage tips will insure the longevity of chocolate:
- Store in an airtight container. Cocoa butter has an affinity to absorb odors and flavors of whatever is nearby. Further, an airtight container blocks out oxygen that causes chocolate to oxidize and lose flavor.
- Store in a cool, dry environment. To maximize the shelf life of chocolate, store at room temperature between 65°F and 70°F and with a relative humidity of lower than 50-55 percent. Under these conditions, the cocoa butter and cocoa solids stay stable.
- Store in a dark location (pantry). Light, like oxygen, contributes to oxidation.
- Refrain from storing in the refrigerator. Ideally, chocolate should not be refrigerated, as doing so may cause the chocolate to absorb odors from other foods and/or develop a moist surface when brought back to room temperature resulting in bloom. If refrigeration is necessary due to high temperature/high humidity, tightly wrap the chocolate to prevent both scenarios.
- Freeze chocolate with care. Chocolate can be stored in the freezer for up to a year but does not significantly change the shelf life. Place the chocolate inside a covered, airtight container or a heavy-duty freezer bag to preserve flavor. Freezing chocolate may induce bloom due to temperature shock. Freezing is a good option for chocolate that will be used later for baking or melting.
Chocolate bloom describes chocolate that appears dusted or streaked with grey on the surface. Bloom does not affect either the taste or shelf life of chocolate nor does it render chocolate unsafe. Bloom only affects the aesthetic appeal of chocolate. Two types of bloom occur in chocolate: fat bloom or sugar bloom.
Fat bloom is a result of chocolate exposed to warm temperatures. Heat causes the cocoa butter to soften, separate, and rise to the surface leaving grey/white streaking. When running a finger gently over the surface, fat bloom feels smooth.
Sugar bloom is a result of exposure to humidity or moisture. The sugar particles in the chocolate absorb moisture. When the moisture evaporates, sugar crystals left on the surface leave a blotchy or dusty look and rough feel to the touch. Sugar bloom is most likely to occur with refrigerated chocolate.
Chocolate bloom is not reversible but it can be remedied by melting. By heating the chocolate, the fat or sugar goes back into the chocolate and when re-hardened, is without bloom. Melting works especially well with fat bloom; heating sugar bloom must be done with care as the chocolate may seize or change to a grainy form. Chocolate that has bloomed may also be used in baking.
Temperature shock can also cause bloom. If chocolate is to be frozen, place it in the refrigerator, unwrapped, for 24 hours prior to freezing. Wrap generously and freeze in an airtight container. At the time of use, thaw the wrapped, frozen chocolate in the refrigerator for 24 hours before bringing it to room temperature. Unwrap the chocolate after it reaches room temperature.
Chocolate is a shelf-stable product that does not become inedible or unsafe like other perishable foods. It may lose potency over time. Proper storage and handling are the keys to the longevity of this delicious treat.
What is the Shelf Life of Chocolate (Products)?, Puratos
The Ultimate Shelf Life Guide, Still Tasty
Storing Chocolate for World Chocolate Day, University of Florida Extension, Sarasota County
Does Chocolate Go Bad?, WebstaurantStore
Death or Health by Chocolate? , University of Wyoming Extension
Does Chocolate Go Bad? , Southern Living