Have you ever seen chocolate lose its temper? It can get pretty ugly.
What makes chocolate smooth and appealing—and what gives the texture a satisfying snap—is the tempering process during chocolate production. It ensures bars and other chocolates have a beautiful, even-coated, glossy, dark brown hue. If chocolate wasn’t tempered, it would have a dull, uneven, grayish and unappetizing color. Not exactly attractive.
What happens when you open a package of chocolate and there is greyish film or whitish speckles on the surface? That’s what is called “chocolate bloom.” This doesn’t mean the chocolate is old, or inedible (it will probably taste fine) but it does mean that the chocolate ingredients have separated and are no longer properly tempered, causing that unappealing mottled look.
There are two kinds of chocolate bloom: fat bloom and sugar bloom. Fat bloom is the most common and it occurs when chocolate is exposed to high heat and then re-solidifies at a lower temperature, causing the cocoa butter to separate from the chocolate, leaving those whitish-gray streaks on the surface.
Sugar bloom is caused by moisture, most often in the form of condensation or humidity. When chocolate comes in contact with moisture, and then subsequently dries out, it causes the sugar in the chocolate to crystalize, leaving discoloration and splotches on the surface.
Fortunately, there are ways to avoid this. To properly store your chocolate, the most ideal situation is to keep it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place, such as a cellar or pantry. If your area is experiencing a warm-weather spell and you don’t happen to have air-conditioning, consider the coolest place in the house, typically a lower cupboard or dark pantry. Chocolate can begin to melt somewhere around 86-90 degrees Fahrenheit. If the coolest place in your home is warmer than that, then using the refrigerator is the next best option. Carefully wrap and seal your chocolates in a couple of layers of plastic wrap or ziplock bags to keep moisture and odors out, seal the bags in an airtight container, and then place in the warmest spot in your refrigerator, often the top and middle shelves, toward the front. (Yes, our refrigerators have their own microclimates.) When you’re ready to enjoy your chocolate again, take it out of the fridge and let it sit out for several hours before unwrapping, so it has a chance to acclimate to room temperature.
The chocolates in our store don’t contain preservatives, so any of them with fillings or inclusions are best enjoyed somewhat fresh. (Pay attention to the expiration dates.) For chocolate bars, however, we understand the need to buy (*ahem* hoard) a variety and to keep stashes at home or at work. There seems to be a lot of wildly varying opinions in the chocolate world, but generally, if stored properly, dark or bittersweet chocolate should last 1-2 years. (Not as long for milk or white chocolates containing dairy, or if the chocolate contains nuts, which can go rancid over time.) A dark bar can potentially last even longer if stored in continually optimal conditions (dry, dark, and cool), but who waits that long to eat chocolate?!
Photo by Jackie Donnelly via Spice & Ink