Having this staple comfort ingredient in a pantry could be the difference between survival and thriving. In my opinion, maximizing the shelf life of cocoa for the long term is something everyone needs to put some effort into.
Cocoa powder should be stored in a tightly sealed container or a vacuum-sealed bag and kept in a dry, cool, and dark environment. While cocoa powder does not technically go bad, it will start losing its potency after about two years. Therefore, it is a good idea to rotate in fresh powder about every 18 months.
Please keep reading to have a few additional questions answered and get to know the best and most effective way to store cocoa powder.
How Long Can You Store Cocoa Powder?
Natural cocoa powder is made purely from the cacao bean which means that it will never truly go bad. The only part of the bean that could spoil in a cacao bean is the cocoa butter and this is removed to make the powder. If stored properly, cocoa powder will continue to be useful for several years.
Avoid sugary cocoa: There are several brands of cocoa powder that are used to make hot cocoa. These products are not pure cocoa powder and also include powdered milk products and sugar. The addition of powdered milk means that it will eventually spoil and will need to be thrown away if it is past the expiration date.
While pure cocoa powder will never truly go bad if stored properly, it will eventually lose its flavor and lose its chocolate-like smell. It is still safe to use in cooking and baking but will not be rich in flavor. Cook’s Illustrated did a taste test of cocoa powder that was several years old. Testers noted that the cocoa 6 years old was a bit “duller” and “weaker” than the fresher powder. It was still perfectly fine to consume and, of course, much better than not having cocoa at all.
Best Cocoa Powder Storage Container
The most important aspect of proper cocoa powder storage is having a container that can be tightly sealed to prevent air and moisture from entering.
Many cocoa powder containers found on store shelves have resealable lids that help keep moisture and air from entering the container. In these instances, it is likely safe to store the cocoa powder in the original storage container.
If the seal on the original container seems ineffective, the cocoa powder did not come in a container that seals, or you just want to be on the safe side, you may want to look into another option.
Here are several good storage container candidates:
- Plastic containers that have air-tight sealed lids. There are many different sizes to fit the space you need.
- Food safe buckets with resealable lids.
- Glass containers with air-tight sealed lids.
- Stainless steel storage containers with air-tight sealed lids
Whichever option you choose, I recommend an “overkill” storage method where you vacuum seal the cocoa powder before placing it in an airtight container. Here is an article I did on storing rice and beans long-term. The methodology is exactly the same, so be sure to check it out.
Can Cocoa Powder Be Kept in the Fridge?
Since cocoa powder should be kept in a cool, dark place, many might wonder whether or not the fridge would be an ideal space to keep unused cocoa powder. This, however, is not an ideal location and could potentially ruin the powder entirely.
Reasons to avoid storing in the refrigerator:
- An ideal temperature for keeping cocoa powder is between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. A refrigerator is much cooler.
- Refrigerators are humid environments. Humidity in the air, even if it is very slight, can promote mold growth. This could cause mold to eventually grow over time on the cocoa powder. The humidity could also cause the powder to clump together, making it less desirable to use.
- There are a lot of different types of food stored in a fridge. These items could contain various types of bacteria that could transfer over to the cocoa powder and begin to grow.
Once bacteria starts to grow, it will quickly ruin an entire container of powder. You don’t want to mess with that stuff.
However, if you happen to be lucky enough to have a root cellar, it would be a fantastic place to store any type of long-term survival food.
How to Store Cocoa Powder in the Fridge
If you have no decent cool storage options and must use the fridge, there is only one way to do it effectively and safely.
To store cocoa powder in the fridge, use a container that is completely airtight and sealed. It is a good idea to vacuum seal the powder as well. Just to be safe, pack it away by itself in an area of the fridge that will not come in contact with other foods.
This is extremely important to prevent mold growth, clumping, and bacterial growth.
Can You Freeze Cocoa Powder?
Just as storing cocoa powder in the fridge can lead to problems, storing cocoa powder in the freezer has very similar concerns.
It is not a good idea to freeze cocoa powder nor is it necessary. Extreme cold does not extend the shelf life of cocoa powder. Also, freezers have humid environments that could cause problems with mold or bacteria.
Storing cocoa powder in a freezer would be a similar risk to storing the powder in a fridge.
How to Store Cocoa Powder in the Freezer
There will be some individuals who will still prefer to store their cocoa powder in the freezer. Just like in the refrigerator, cocoa powder can only be safely stored in the freezer with an airtight and sealed container.
To be safe, it would be wise to transfer cocoa powder that is going in the freezer to a container that handles being frozen well and is well-sealed. A glass container would not make the best choice since it could crack while in the freezer.
Shelf Life of Cocoa Powder Once Opened
Since cocoa powder does not have any added ingredients and the oil from the cacao bean has been completely taken out of the powder, it can last quite a while even after it is opened.
Once opened, cocoa powder will generally remain at peak quality for up to two years. Cocoa powder cannot spoil so it can be used several years after the expiration date. Even after 5 or more years after the “best by” date, the powder will usually still be safe to use and taste just fine in a recipe.
After the 2 year mark, it is important to visually inspect, smell, and taste the cocoa powder before using it. While it still won’t make you sick, the potency of the taste could diminish dramatically over time. Bakers that are sticklers about flavor would want to double-check before adding cocoa powder that is several years old.
Which Brand of Cocoa Powder is the Best?
Choosing the brand of cocoa powder that is best for you is a personal decision that depends on what is important to you in terms of food sources, how often it is used, and what types of recipes it is used for. These are some common considerations when looking for the best brand of cocoa powder:
- Organically grown
- Sustainably sourced
- Free trade
- Taste/ flavor
For some individuals organically grown products are especially important. Those individuals will want to look for a cocoa powder that is grown in an area without the use of pesticides or other harmful chemicals.
Others could be more concerned about whether or not the cacao bean was ethically grown and harvested and whether it is a fair trade item. If this is an area that is important to you, look for brands that would fit these conditions.
If flavor in baking or cooking recipes is highly important, choose a powder that is highly rated among top chefs. Of course, certain brands are better for cakes, while others might be best for making mousse. If you want the “good stuff”, here is the brand that I recommend. If you are looking to buy in bulk, here is a 25 pound supply available on Amazon.
Other Considerations When Choosing a Cocoa Powder
When choosing a cocoa powder, two more considerations might be made if you are a baker with specific quality needs. Dutch-processed and natural cocoa powders are two different varieties that are available as a cocoa powder choice.
Natural (or unsweetened) cocoa powder is the most common type of powder available. It is used in most favorite chocolate recipes. The powder usually has a bitter taste and has a higher pH level.
Dutch-processed cocoa powder, however, is a less common type of powder and is more difficult to find. It got its name from the process in which the cacao beans undergo before they are made into powder. This type of powder has a lower pH level and also has a richer, dark color to it. It may also remain potent longer as a result. You can also pick up this type on Amazon.
Is Expired Cocoa Powder Still Good?
Expired cocoa powder should always still be good after the ‘best by’ date. This assumes it was stored properly and not contaminated in any way. While cocoa powder is known to have a virtually limitless shelf life, the potency and flavor will begin to decline after about two years.
You might notice that packages that contain cocoa powder include a ‘best by’ date instead of an expiration date. This is the date that was chosen by the manufacturer as the date on which they can ensure the powder is fresh with the fullest flavor potential.
After the date on the package has passed, the manufacturer can no longer guarantee the freshest product. It is after this point that flavor potency can be lost and the product might become stale.
It is always good food safety practice to check the product each time before using it. By visually inspecting the powder for mold, insects, or clumping you can check for anything that might be harmful. Smelling the product before use is also a good idea. The nose is a great indicator that something is not right and if the powder has an odd smell, it might be an indicator that it needs to be discarded.
How Can You Tell If Cocoa Powder is Good?
When deciding whether or not cocoa powder is still good to use in your favorite recipe, it is a good idea to follow a few simple steps:
- Check the date
- Visually inspect
- Smell test
- Taste test
Check the ‘best by’ date on the package. If it is more than 2 to 3 years past the date, it is possible that the cocoa powder has lost its flavor and has become a bit stale.
Visually inspect the cocoa powder. If there is mold or bacteria growth, it is not safe to use and will need to be discarded. If there is clumping in the container, it will be more difficult to use and could be stale. Smell the container and check for any odd smells. If it seems to have an odd smell or doesn’t have much of a cocoa smell at all, it is likely stale and without flavor.
Lastly, if everything looks and smells good, it is a good idea to do a quick taste test to make sure there is still good flavor potency in the cocoa powder. While it is unlikely that the cocoa powder will go bad while in storage, checking for flavor and inspecting for mold is a good way to check for freshness.
Immediately discard any cocoa powder that has been exposed to moisture and/ or has developed any bacterial growth. If the powder has an odd appearance, smell, or taste, it is also a good idea to throw it out.
Can you get Sick from Expired Cocoa Powder?
Cocoa powder does not contain any ingredient that will make someone sick if it is used past the ‘best by’ date unless it is a cocoa powder that has milk as an added ingredient.
In these cocoa powder mixes, the milk product will eventually go bad and could make someone sick. For these products, it is a good idea to stick with the expiration date on the label.
All other pure forms of cocoa powder without any added ingredients will not usually be harmful if consumed after the date on the label. Just be sure to check that there is no bacterial growth that occurred inside of the package or any odd smells before consuming.
After readings literally over one hundred books on survival and what the collapse might look like, the consensus has always been that luxury items like tobacco and chocolate will become more valuable than gold.
Therefore, if you think you don’t want to “waste space” with things like cocoa, you may want to think again. The value of barter when SHTF cannot be overstated.
Thanks for reading!
For more, don’t miss Is Chocolate a Good Survival Food? How Should It Be Stored?.
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