What is the best way to store chocolate?
The idea of storing chocolate baffles a lot of people as it is just too tempting to eat straight away. But, there are times when we need to keep chocolate for a while.
Maybe, you received too many chocolate gifts and can’t eat them all at once or maybe, you are a chocolate maker that needs to store large batches of chocolate to sell. There are many reasons why people need to store chocolate.
Of course, the way to enjoy chocolate at its best is to eat it soon after buying. This is the time that it would be in its most ideal condition. It should be glossy, snappy and melt in your mouth.
However, if you are going to store chocolate, there are a few things you can do to keep it in the best possible condition. Here are the important things to know when storing chocolate…
How to store chocolate?
1. Cool, dry and dark
The most ideal place to store chocolate would be somewhere that is cool, dry and dark; such as a cupboard or pantry. Chocolate needs to stay somewhere where the temperature is consistent, there is minimal moisture in the air and where it can avoid long exposure to light.
2. Controlled temperature
Chocolate keeps best at a temperature of between 65 – 68°F (about 18 – 20ºC) and with a humidity of less than 55%. This will allow the emulsion of the cocoa butter and cocoa solids to remain stable for months or possible years. Of course, this will depend on the type of chocolate you are storing and the ingredients it comprises of. Exposing chocolate to different temperatures can effect it in a number of ways.
Heat can negatively affect the flavour and aroma of chocolate and if it causes it to melt, will bring it out of temper, changing its texture when re-solidified. It could also trigger ‘fat bloom’, which is where the cocoa butter begins to separate from the cocoa solids and appear as white or grey streaks on the surface of the chocolate. Some people mistake this for mould and although it looks unappetising, is completely safe to consume.
3. Limit exposure to light and air
Firstly, chocolate should be kept away from direct sunlight and other artificial lights. It will not only heat up the chocolate, but can also negatively impact the flavour.
Secondly, chocolate should have as minimal exposure to the air as possible. Contact with light and air causes chocolate to go through the process of oxidation. The fat (cocoa butter) disintegrates, the flavour gets impaired and an unpleasant smell can develop.
White chocolate is most at risk of this, whereas milk and dark chocolate is somewhat protected due to the cocoa solids present and their higher levels of natural antioxidants.
4. Keep in an air-tight container
To prevent your chocolate from oxidising, wrap it in foil or plastic and store it in an air-tight container. Freezer bags or zip lock bags are also very effective as you can squeeze a lot of the air out before sealing. This will also help protect it against any moisture, light and the absorption of odours.
Chocolate is known to easily absorb odours from different substances that are near it, like the food in the refrigerator or cupboard. White chocolate is particularly susceptible to this. So, do not leave your chocolate un-opened and next to fish, garlic, chili or any other aroma-rich produce.
5. Try to avoid using the refrigerator
If possible, it is best to avoid storing chocolate in the refrigerator. As we mentioned before, there is the danger of the odour transfer from food, but there is also the problem of moisture. Normal kitchen refrigerators hold a lot of moisture, which can settle on the chocolate and cause it to become sticky and unpleasant.
Moreover, if you expose refrigerated chocolate to the air too quickly, especially somewhere that is hot and humid, moisture can condense on the chocolate’s cool surface and cause ‘sugar bloom’. Sugar is very soluble in water and so when the moisture settles on the chocolate, it dissolves the sugar and leaves it on the surface when it evaporates. This will affect the texture of the chocolate, discolours it and sometimes leaves white dusty marks similar to ‘fat bloom’.
Of course, there are many instances where you just have to store chocolate in the fridge. This is especially true if you live in a hot and humid country and don’t want to leave the air-conditioner running 24/7.
How to store chocolate in the refrigerator or freezer?
There are times when there is no other choice but to store chocolate in the refrigerator or freezer. This would especially be true in the summer months or in hot and humid countries. Chocolate should be fine if it is unopened and in its original packaging, but if opened, needs to be sealed in air-tight conditions.
Wrap the chocolate in foil or moisture proof plastic, squeeze out all the air and then seal it in an air-tight container, such as Tupperware. It also helps to include a paper towel to soak any moisture that may find its way inside. Also, separate any chocolate that may contain strongly flavoured ingredients.
If you are going to store chocolate in the fridge or freezer, it is important to gradually raise or lower the temperature to avoid temperature shock, which will harm the texture, colour and flavour. So, if you are going to store it in the freezer, first place it in the fridge for 24 hours before doing so. When you are ready to enjoy the chocolate, reverse these steps and put it back in the fridge for 24h hours. Then bring it back to room temperature before unwrapping and serving.
Tests have shown that sensitive chocolate such as truffles can be stored in the refrigerator for 3 months and milk chocolate for 6 months before its quality becomes affected. Chocolate can be kept fresh in the freezer for years.
Wine coolers are perfect for storing chocolate as you can easily control the temperature and there is very little moisture present. Wine coolers allow you to adjust the temperatures allowing you to set it to the ideal temperature for storing chocolate at 65°F (18°C). Still make sure to wrap the chocolate as described previously. Alternatively, invest in a mini fridge and set it to the warmest temperature.
Shelf Life of Chocolate
Chocolate can be stored and last for a surprisingly long time. Of course, this depends on the type of chocolate, the ingredients used and whether it’s a bar of chocolate or a truffle or praline.
Dark chocolate can last the longest and if stored correctly can be safe to eat for years. It is generally agreed that dark or unsweetened chocolate can retain its quality for up to 2 years. Milk chocolate will keep well for up to a year whereas white chocolate up to 6 months. The purer the chocolate or the higher the cocoa content, the longer the shelf life.
When it comes to chocolate with non-shelf stable ingredients, such as truffles and pralines, it is probably best to refer to the chocolatier that made it. They have a shorter shelf life due to the ingredients used, but can usually be stored safely for a few months in the fridge. To keep them longer, they can also be frozen, but should be defrosted in the fridge and returned to room temperature before serving.
Best Before Date Nonsense
Chocolate makers put best before dates on their chocolate because they have to. A little secret, most of the time these dates are just made up. Some chocolate makers probably have no idea what date to put on their packaging and so just copy other companies. Or they will just put down one year after it is made even though the chocolate would be safe to eat for far longer. In fact, some chocolate makers believe that chocolate gets better with age, similar to wine or whiskey, and store big blocks of chocolate for months to develop the flavours.
It is very difficult for chocolate to go bad and is rarely unsafe to eat. This is because food needs moisture to grow bacteria and go rotten. However, chocolate only contains about 0.6% of water and because of this, spores are barely able to develop on it. Also, any water that is present in chocolate gets bound up with the sugar. Therefore, it is very unlikely that chocolate can go bad enough to make you sick. Even milk chocolate stays stable for a long time as the milk powder is a dry product with very little moisture.
Having said this, it is best to enjoy chocolate when it is fresh and recently unpackaged, as over a long period of time, it can gradually lose some of its flavour and aroma. So, trust your senses more than the date, as your nose and tongue will tell you if you if it is good enough to eat.