Someone with a sense of humor once asked, “Can’t Oreos count as a grain? Isn’t chocolate a legume?” Chocolate is a little nicety that just seems to make any trouble better. It’s a definite comfort food for regular people and may be sustenance for the chocoholic. So why go without it in an emergency? Here is advice from experts on storing chocolate.
Chocolate chips, milk and dark chocolate
At my house, these are considered part of basic food storage, especially chocolate chips. Chocolate stores best in a cool, dark place. The Ghirardelli website states, “Chocolate should be kept wrapped tightly in a cool, dry place with a temperature ranging from 60-75°F. In hot climates or during the summer, chocolate can be stored in the refrigerator, although this isn't ideal as the chocolate may absorb odors from other foods. Dark chocolate actually improves with age, like a fine wine, if stored in an airtight container at 60-65°F.”
Sometimes a white coating develops on chocolate that had been stored. Nestles explains, “Bloom is a gray film caused by the cocoa butter or sugar rising to the surface when chocolate is stored at temperatures that fluctuate from hot to cold. This dulls the rich brown chocolate color but does not affect the taste. When the chocolate melts, it regains its attractive color.”
When it comes to shelf life of chocolate, Hershey’s says, “Most confectionery products are at their best flavor for one year after manufacture. Ingredients such as nuts will shorten the shelf life. Products kept beyond recommended 'best before' date may have flavor loss or texture changes. Keep in mind, however, that storage conditions greatly affect the quality of our products.
“Solid chocolate products will maintain their quality if well wrapped and stored in a cool, dry place (55-60°F).”
I recently found a single bag of dark chocolate chips that somehow miraculously survived for 3½ years in the basement. We could detect no change in the luscious chocolate flavor, and the bloom on them disappeared when they were baked in some tasty chocolate chip cookies.
Because chocolate has a habit of mysteriously disappearing, it’s a challenge keeping a supply on hand. I’ve been known to hide it. Obtaining a generous supply provides a hedge against such losses. Can you have too much chocolate?
Labels on some products state they are “chocolate flavor” which means they do not contain either real chocolate or real cocoa butter. By regulation, these products cannot claim to be chocolate.
Amazingly, Hershey’s says, “Cocoa is considered a non-perishable item which should maintain quality if stored at room temperature in a tightly sealed container.” Chocolate baked foods, including brownies, can definitely be on the menu in emergencies. Though it’s a good idea to gradually use supplies of cocoa, it’s nice not to have to worry about its shelf life.
Cocoa can also be a delicious addition to main dishes, like a chicken mole. The homemade hot cocoa recipe on the container of Hershey’s cocoa is amazing.
A lot has been made of the health benefits of flavanols in dark chocolate, but it’s difficult to consume enough flavanols to make a difference without negative effects from the high calories in dark chocolate. Sadly, it’s impossible to say storing chocolate is necessary for good health. Who needs an excuse, however? A little bit of chocolate seems to make everything better, making it nearly a necessity to store. It’s so decadently delicious, that’s excuse enough to include it in food storage.
Try this interesting main dish recipe calling for cocoa:
Beans in Cocoa Chile Sauce
1¾ cup soaked and cooked dry pinto beans or 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained
1¾ cup soaked and cooked dry black beans or 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained
1¾ cup soaked and cooked dry kidney beans or 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained
1 (15-ounce) can stewed tomatoes, undrained and cut up
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons dried onions
3 tablespoons dried green peppers
1-2 tablespoons chili powder
1-2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1½ tablespoons brown sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
In a pot, combine all ingredients. Simmer, covered, 10-15 minutes. Serve with rolls or cornbread. Serves 6.
— "Emergency Food Storage in a Nutshell, 3rd Edition," by Leslie Probert and Lisa Harkness, published in 2011
Leslie Probert, a graduate in home economics from Brigham Young University, is a speaker and co-author of "Emergency Food Storage in a Nutshell, 3rd Edition" with more than 400 recipes. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org