We all know that all too often we buy food that doesn’t get eaten before the “best before” date, and that food sadly ends up in the bin. It’s a shame! And it’s bordering on tragedy when chocolate suffers that same fate.
But does chocolate actually expire? What if you come across a bar of forgotten about chocolate in the back of the cupboard? How valid, really, are those expiration dates on chocolate bars?
Eating old chocolate isn’t going to harm you. But it also might not be that great for you. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at the shelf life of chocolate, and what you can do to make sure you are getting the most out of this most amazing treat.
Does Chocolate Expire?
Technically, yes, chocolate does expire. In that, there is a date that recommends that the chocolate is past its prime. Given the ingredients in chocolate, and if it is stored in a certain manner — that is, airtight and in a dark, dry cupboard or closet — the chocolate will lose some of its freshness over time.
Depending on the type of chocolate, the type of packaging and how it is stored, there are a few general rules that you can follow to get an idea of how your old, past its prime chocolate, is going to taste.
Dark chocolate is known to last the longest out of all the different types of chocolate.
This delectable treat is made from cocoa – the roasted and ground “nibs” of the cacao tree that produces a liquid or paste called “chocolate liquor” or “cocoa liquor.” The liquor is then separated into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. (Unlike milk chocolate, dark chocolate does not contain milk solids.) Cocoa butter and cocoa powder are then sometimes combined with other ingredients such as sugar (to balance out the natural bitterness of the cocoa), vanilla (to enhance flavour), and an emulsifier (for extra smoothness).
Tweaking the amount of cocoa, cocoa butter, and sugar produces different kinds of dark chocolate. The higher the percentage of cocoa, the more bitter it will taste.
Since dark chocolate has no dairy products in it, it lasts longer than milk and white chocolate. If unopened and stored in an airtight container somewhere dark and not too warm, dark chocolate can last up to two years from the day it was made. If the chocolate has been opened, but still stored properly, you can expect it to taste really good for at least a year.
Milk Chocolate and White Chocolate
As for milk and white chocolate bars, the “best before” time decreases pretty drastically. Since the basic four ingredients for milk chocolate include: sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate liquor and milk (or milk products), the time to eat chocolate is sooner than later!
The ingredients in white chocolate are cocoa butter, sugar and milk, with vanilla and lecithin as common additions. (Side note: unlike dark or bittersweet chocolate, white chocolate does not contain cacao ground beans, and so, some claim, it is technically not chocolate.)
You can probably conjure up what sour milk tastes and smells like. Expired milk and white chocolate won’t be that terrible, but it’s probably not best to mess around with really old milk and white chocolate. Chocolate that contains milk, or other ingredients like fruit and nuts, or other organic ingredients is likely to turn more quickly, and dairy and fruity substances are prone to bacteria and can become rancid.
To be on the safe side, give yourself one year if the milk and white chocolate is unopened and stored properly, and 6-8 months if it has been opened but still stored properly.
What To Do With Old Chocolate?
Moisture can cause condensation in chocolate and promote the growth and development of microbial bacteria. Also of note, chocolate that has gone through temperature fluctuations might ‘bloom’. You’ve probably seen this before — light brown or white spots that appear over old chocolate. These are sometimes spread out in a thin layer or coating.
This phenomenon happens when the cocoa butter (the fat in chocolate) has seeped to the surface to give it a greasy feel. A white powdery coating is instead a sugar bloom, and this typically happens when chocolate has melted and condensation occurred. The sugar dissolves and then hardens again.
Neither of these instances will be poison to the body, but they can cause the chocolate to taste a bit off. There’s no harm in having a nibble and deciding for yourself whether or not you want to proceed.
We truly hate to see chocolate go to waste, and it doesn’t have to be that way! Dark chocolate (which doesn’t contain and milk ingredients) can still do good in the world!
If chocolate is nearing or past its best before date, here are some ideas to put it to use.
1. Use it in Baking
Older dark chocolate makes a great ingredient in baked goods like banana bread and cookies. Try recipes for things like “kitchen sink” muffins, where there are a ton of competing flavours, and the older chocolate bits will fit right in.
2. Melt it (With Some Fresh Stuff)
Melting old chocolate is a great way to consume it, especially if you combine it with some fresh chocolate. Use a double boiler to make it liquid-y and then drizzle over ice cream sundaes or other baked goods.
3. Use it in Crafts
Gingerbread houses or other holiday crafts sometimes call for things like candy and chocolate, so save all those old bits to help make your home festive!
Of course, the best way to avoid dealing with old chocolate is to eat it when it’s nice and fresh. So go ahead and enjoy that amazing treat, and never worry about old chocolate again! If you are buying fresh chocolate today, there are tons of sites can order online!