Understanding The Expiration Date of Chocolate
While cheese lovers need to hurry up before their favourite food goes bad in a matter of days, chocoholics don’t need to feel the same pressure.
They will have months, years and even decades available to safely enjoy their delicious treats. But what makes chocolate so resistant to perishability?
Why Chocolate Doesn’t Go Bad Quickly
Before focusing on chocolate, it’s useful to understand why foods in general expire. There are usually two main culprits when foods go bad: water and fat. Bacteria find in water the perfect environment to grow and thrive, while fat gets oxidised and turns rancid quickly if exposed to heat, light, or oxygen over a period of time. Chocolate is a lucky food in this case.
On one hand, there is no water involved in the making of chocolate. Actually, water is the worst enemy of chocolate makers, since a drop of water can ruin the most precious creations in a matter of seconds. This means that chocolate is not a fertile ground for bacteria. On the other hand, the fat inside the chocolate (the cacao butter) is a very stable fat that actually has a stabilising effect. The invulnerability towards bacteria and oxidation keeps chocolate safe to eat for a very long time.
Expiration Date VS Best Before Date
The non-perishable nature of chocolate (compared to many other foods) is why you won’t find an Expiration Date on its packaging, but only a Best Before indication. If an expiration date is used for foods which are unsafe to eat or won’t function the same way after a certain period, a best before date is typically the time given before the food passes its quality peak.
A chocolate bar that has passed its Best Before date is not inedible or unsafe, but it simply might not be in the best organoleptic conditions to be enjoyed like the chocolate maker intended it to be. Fragrance, texture and flavour might have lost their best characteristics after that time. The best before date of chocolate is highly influenced by the ingredients that it contains.
The Ingredients Determine the Expiration Date
From plain dark chocolate made with only two ingredients to white chocolate with all sorts of inclusions, expiration dates vary widely based on the ingredients list. Here are some rules of thumb to keep in mind:
- More dairy means a shorter shelf life.
- Fresh and fatty-rich inclusions like fruits, nuts and seeds make the chocolate perish quicker.
- Artisan chocolate, which is made with fresher ingredients and no chemical additives, has a shorter lifespan compared to industrial chocolate that often includes stabilising preservatives.
- Plain dark chocolate is the least perishable type of chocolate, remaining safely edible for up to even a decade!
Dark chocolate is known for lasting longer than milk and white chocolate. The absence of dairy content makes it less perishable. If unopened and stored properly, dark chocolate lasts 2 years (from the day it was made). If opened, but still stored properly, the suggestion is one year. As for milk and white chocolate bars, the time available is cut in half.
One year if unopened and stored properly, and 6-8 months if opened and stored properly. Some professional tasters also believe that dark chocolate becomes better as time passes. Like fine wine, some new flavours may develop in the chocolate bar with ageing, deepening its aromatic profile and turning it into a vintage treasure.
But what if some white stuff has appeared on the surface of the chocolate?
Fat And Sugar Bloom Are Not Signs of Expiration
Chocolate expiration shouldn’t be confused with sugar and fat bloom. In spite of the unappealing look, chocolate with slightly white or brown splotches on its surface is still edible.
Sugar bloom is usually a uniform white coat on the chocolate. The sugar has crystallised. It can occur when water gets in contact with the chocolate, or the chocolate bar is placed in the refrigerator, or it has spent some time in a place with high humidity.
Fat bloom is a lighter colour spots on the chocolate. The cocoa butter has separated from the cocoa mass and has risen to the surface. It can occur when the chocolate was not well-tempered, or has been subjected to temperature fluctuations.
Whether it’s sugar or fat bloom, the chocolate has just changed its internal ideal structure, with the sugar or the cocoa butter that stopped being in their designated positions and got all over the place. Bloomed chocolate might lose its original texture and flavour, but it’s still safe to eat.
Not ideal for savouring, it can still be used in rich hot chocolates and baked goods.
The best indicators to tell if a chocolate has gone bad or not are ODOR and TASTE. Sniffing the chocolate is the first step. If the nose smells something funky that induces cringy expressions, the chocolate might have gone bad. A taste test can cast every doubt. Is the chocolate savoury? Is the bitterness overpowering? Are there mouldy or rancid flavours? Then the chocolate should be immediately discarded.
Although chocolate remains safe to eat for a very long time, the best way to avoid any risk is to consume the chocolate in its freshest conditions, possibly only a few months away from the time of production.
If you find a lost chocolate product that is past its best before date, you can always contact the chocolate company to ask for suggestions.
Ultimately, the best strategy to stay safe is to leave no leftovers behind!!
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