chocolate shelf life

Chocolate Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad?

In the middle of cleaning, you found a few unopened boxes of chocolate in the cupboard. Surprisingly, some of them have passed the “best by” date. Does this mean chocolate go bad?

Perhaps, you kept a leftover chocolate bar in the refrigerator. When you take it out, you see some white layer on the surface. How do you tell if chocolate goes bad?

Chocolate is an ultimate sweet treat for most kids and adults. Although it’s been around for years, similar questions above keep popping up from time to time. If you’re curious about the answers, keep reading!

In this article, we break down chocolate’s shelf life, storage (do you need to refrigerate chocolate?), and common signs of spoilage. Sounds interesting? Read on!


How To Store Chocolate

Storing chocolate is quite easy and straightforward. No matter if it’s a dark, milk, white chocolate, semi-sweet and unsweetened chocolate, all require a cool, dry, dark environment. The ideal temperatures are between 65 to 70ºF (18 to 20ºC) with humidity of less than 55%. (*)

Unopened chocolate bars are the easiest to keep. You can store it right away in its original container, no prep needed. Once opened, keep chocolate wrapped properly. If that’s not possible, place it in a sealed airtight container to prevent oxidation.

Improper storage can lead to chocolate blooming, which is the white or gray spots on the surface. There are two kinds of blooming; sugar and fat blooming. Blooming is not necessarily bad or affects the flavor, but it does make chocolate look less appealing. (*)

Fat bloom occurs when chocolate is too warm. Fats from cocoa butter separate and re-solidify on the surface when the temperature goes down. Hence, pick a place with a constant temperature that doesn’t fluctuate considerably to avoid blooming.

Whereas, sugar blooming happens when excess moisture on the chocolate’s surface draws out white sugar particles. Once moisture evaporates, sugar crystallizes and leaves white spots on the surface. Therefore, a humid place such as a refrigerator is not very ideal for storing chocolate.

Condensation also makes your chocolate “sweaty”. Next to that, chocolate tends to pick up odors from its surroundings. If you don’t want your chocolate bars to end up smelling like curry or cabbage, don’t refrigerate chocolate!

However, there can be circumstances when you have no better options than keeping your chocolate in the fridge. That’s during summer days and your house is too hot, or you live in a humid and warm climate.

Unopened chocolates are sealed well, so you can toss them right away into the fridge. But, if you have leftover bars, better wrap them tightly and keep in a sealed airtight container. Bring them back into room temperature before unwrapping.

If you buy or make truffles or bonbons with fresh cream filling, it’s better to keep them refrigerated to avoid spoilage. If they are shelf-stable, you can treat them similarly to chocolate bars.


How Do You Tell If Chocolate Goes Bad?

With improper storage, chocolate shows changes in appearance, although these are not necessarily harmful. And as you may have expected, chocolate goes bad eventually. Let’s start with the former.

Chocolate is prone to temperature changes and humidity. At some point, you may see your chocolate bar is sweating, blooming, or oily.

Don’t panic, these are normal and harmless. These tend to happen when you keep chocolates in the fridge or damp area.

As mentioned earlier, there are two kinds of chocolate blooms—sugar and fat bloom. If the white spots are dry and do not melt when touched, these are sugar blooms. Meanwhile, the white or gray spots feel slick and melt when touched, these are fat bloom.

So, how to tell if chocolate is spoiled? If you see discoloration, signs of mold on the surface, the texture is too sticky or grainy, it’s time to trash the chocolate.

If chocolate smells off or rancid, that’s also time to let it go. Your chocolate may have picked up odors from its environment. Maybe, you didn’t wrap it properly.

If you think your chocolate looks and smells fine, take a small taste. If it tastes like chocolate, then go ahead to use it. If not, better open a new pack. Likewise, if you’re in doubt or it’s been way too long in the cabinet, better stay on the safe side.


How Long Does Chocolate Last?

The shelf life of chocolate varies considerably depending on the types, ingredients, and storage conditions.

Dark chocolate lasts much longer than milk or white chocolate. High-quality chocolate typically lasts longer than average quality chocolate.

Dark chocolate is made from chocolate liquor, which contains a lot of polyphenols or antioxidants which are not present in white chocolate. These antioxidants prevent dark chocolate from getting rancid.

White chocolate is prepared from cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla and contains no chocolate liquor. Therefore, the absence of antioxidants makes white chocolate spoils more quickly than dark chocolate.

The addition of other ingredients such as milk, fruits, nuts also limits chocolate’s shelf life. In general, dark chocolate retains its best flavor for 18 to 24 months, while other chocolate lasts shorter, from 6 to 18 months.

The chocolate manufacturer provides a “best by” date on the package. Of course, chocolate doesn’t instantly go bad the day after it. This date is a rough estimate to guarantee that chocolate should remain at its peak quality with proper storage.

You can assume that chocolate is fine to eat for a few weeks to months beyond this date until spoilage signs are evident, or the quality drops to an unacceptable level.

Hershey mentions in its official page that their confectionery products have a year shelf life on average. You can keep them beyond the date with the expected change in flavor or texture.

Gourmet or premium artisanal chocolate keeps for a few weeks up to 2 months. Cream-filled truffles or bonbons have a limited shelf life.

ChocolatePantry
Dark chocolate, unsweetened and semi-sweet chocolateBest by + 6 to 12 months
Milk chocolateBest by + 2 to 4 months
White chocolateBest by + 2 to 4 months
Chocolate bar with nuts, fruits, caramels,Best by + 2 to 4 months
Bonbon, praline, gourmet, homemade chocolate2 to 8 weeks

This table is a rough estimate assuming chocolate is stored under ideal conditions. The actual shelf life depends on the ingredients, preparation methods, and storage. If you see any spoilage signs or dropped quality on your chocolate, better discard it.


FAQs

Can you eat expired chocolate?

Yes, a “best by” date is a quality reference, not safety. However, how long you can use it after its recommended date depends on how well you store it and your personal preference. Also, if spoilage signs are apparent, discard the chocolate.

How do you fix bloom chocolate?

You can fix chocolate bloom by tampering or using it in recipes that require melting the chocolate.

Can expired chocolate make you sick?

Although, there is no scientific evidence, expired candies like chocolate may carry microbes that can make you sick. It’s always best to check for signs of chocolate going off and stay on the safe side.

Final Thoughts

Everybody loves chocolate. Unfortunately, chocolate doesn’t last forever in your storage. It loses the flavor and eventually goes bad.

Proper storage and handling are keys to preserve the quality and maintain its shelf life. Keep it in a cool, dry, dark place. Refrigeration is not necessary unless you live in a scorching hot and humid area, or your kitchen is too warm during summer days.

Dark chocolate is the most stable and has the longest shelf life, thanks to its abundant antioxidants. The addition of milk, fresh fruits, and other perishable ingredients limits chocolate’s shelf life.

Chocolate doesn’t magically go bad the day after its “best by” date. But, how long you can use chocolate beyond its recommended date depends on the storage conditions and your personal preferences. Make sure you don’t spot any spoilage signs before using it.

Up Next: Does cocoa powder go bad?

expired chocolate

Photo: jirkaejc/depositphotos

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