If you are frequent visitor of this blog, you probably share our love of chocolate. How
could you not? A freshly made milk chocolate confection or a gourmet dark chocolate
bar can cheer us up from the worst of funks.
But what about chocolate that’s been sitting around a while? Like, a really long while?
Does chocolate ever go bad?
It’s a question people ask all the time. Whether it is that baking chocolate you forgot
about in the back of the cupboard or that Halloween treat that you find the following
September, there’s usually a voice that wonders, “… it can’t be that bad, can it?”
Let’s take a closer look at this favorite treat of ours and find out how long it might last.
First, the basics. Chocolate is made of a few ingredients – cocoa solids, which
determine the flavor profile, and the cocoa butter, which are the fats that make the
texture so amazing and addictive. Of course, there are also sugars or sweeteners and
any other flavorings, too.
Chocolate shelf life
If you look for it on the packaging, chocolate products are going to have a best before
date. That’s because the ingredients used to make chocolate, especially the milk
products and oils, can go bad. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are unsafe to
eat, but they may taste unpleasant.
A best before date is just that – the chocolate will taste best and be of the highest
quality before that date lapses. Following that date, the chocolate will likely lose its rich
flavor and might taste a little off. (A best before date differs in that way from an
expiration date, after which a product should not be consumed.)
How to extend chocolate’s shelf life
The best way to prolong the life of a chocolate is to store it in a sealed package in a
cool, dark place, like in a cupboard. However, the older it is, the risk is that the quality of
the chocolate will deteriorate and lose its richness. That baking chocolate you found
behind the container of flour? As long as it’s sealed, it’s worth a nibble. You’ll be able to
tell from tasting it whether you should proceed or not.
So… can chocolate expire?
For lower quality chocolate and chocolate candy bars, it is often the other ingredients
added that are the first to go off. Things like nuts, dried fruit, peanut butter and dairy
products are far quicker to spoil. You can definitely taste when these products have
passed their prime. Highly manufactured chocolate and low quality chocolate might
have a range of products in them that can spoil. Best to stick to the good stuff!
Foods often expire because of bacteria and mold growth, which is not common in
chocolate. However, if chocolate has melted and firmed up again, moisture may form
and get trapped, creating the conditions for bacteria and mold to grow. It is rare but it is
probably best to avoid chocolate that has sat in a hot car and melted several times over.
If you are certain that the chocolate has sat in a stable temperature, in the dark, and has
been sealed, there is a good chance that it is still safe to eat, even after its best before
date. It just might not taste as delicious as it once did.
What about those white spots on my chocolate? Is that mold?
Most of us have encountered old chocolate that has mystery bumps on it. These curious
additions to the perfect chocolate are called blooms, and while they are not as pleasant
as flowers in the spring, they are not that bad either.
There are typically two kinds of bloom – those that come from fat and others that come
from sugar. It’s easy to tell the difference. If the bloom feels greasy, it is probably a
bloom from the fats in the chocolate. In this case, the cocoa butter has traveled to the
surface of the chocolate. It’s not really a big deal and aside from looking less appealing,
it is fine to eat. If you decide to bake with it, the blooms will disappear once you melt the
The other kind of bloom is a bloom from sugar and usually takes the form of a dust-like
substance. If you find sugar blooms on your chocolate, it may be the case that the
chocolate melted and cooled again, causing condensation to form and water to
evaporate, which has left the sugar exposed. In this case, it is better to be safe than
sorry and ditch the chocolate.
What can I do with old chocolate?
Instead of throwing chocolate away because it tastes slightly off, and if you are sure that
there are only blooms from fat, not sugar, you can still use the chocolate in a variety of
ways! It’s time to get creative.
Older, less fresh chocolate chips can still be used. Some of our favorite ideas include making
hot chocolate, using it in baking or cooking (pancakes anyone?) or even saving it for
your next ginger bread house when the holidays roll around. Older chocolate can be
used in icings or it can be shaved onto cookies and cakes for a decorative touch.
While we don’t generally recommend eating expired foods, we also don’t love the
thought of perfectly fine chocolate ending up in the trash, especially if it can be
repurposed or enjoyed.