Tag Archives: premium chocolate

10 Tips for Keeping Chocolate Fresh

HOW TO STORE FINE CHOCOLATE

We finished with Valentine’s not long ago and although most of you have polished off the last bits of your bounty by now, I know there are few of you out there that want to savor your chocolate over weeks or even months.  Or maybe you are building yourself a fine chocolate collection in the way that some people collect wine.  Either way, you’re in luck because chocolate bars can last several years when stored properly.  Years?  I know, I know, chocolate doesn’t last but a couple of days in your home, but keep in mind that chocolate can become a mess in a matter  of days if kept poorly.

So what do you need to know to preserve the best flavor and texture of your bars?  There are three main enemies of chocolate:

  • Heat
  • Humidity
  • Strong odors

You could add sunlight, but this is rarely an issue.  If you want to defeat the enemies of chocolate, just follow these ten tips:

Melted chocolate bars

Some completely abused and bloomed bars. My wife bought these on a summer road trip as a surprise for me and accidently left them in the hot car. Although these bars were beyond edible (I tried), your chocolate won’t even come close to this disaster state if you follow a few simple rules.

1.  Store your chocolate bars between about 60 and 65°F (about 16 – 18ºC).  Heat will slowly drive away aroma and then flavor.  In the extreme, you’ll get melting which can wreck the texture besides disturbing any art that’s molded into the bar.  A fat bloom can also develop as a whitish haze on the surface of the bar that, while unpleasant looking, won’t hurt you at all.  Bloomed chocolate may have poor texture, but more importantly, bloom is an indicator of poor storage.  What to do with a hazy bloomed bar?  Just taste it and see.  Rarely will you want to throw it away.  If it seems sub-par, but still edible, it can be used for baking, put into your oatmeal or crumbled on dessert.

Storing chocolate under too cold conditions may disturb the crystalline structure of the chocolate and affect texture, cause bloom, or both.  Chocolate makers take great care to create a bar where the cocoa butter and cocoa solids are intimately mixed.  Extremes of temperature can undo this hard work.  Still, I would worry less about cold than heat.

Now these are ideal conditions.  Your chocolate is not going to suddenly turn to junk at 66ºF, so don’t stress out.  Choose one of the storage methods in Tips 7 – 10 and your chocolate will stay smooth and potent.

2.   Store chocolate in a dry place.   Ideally, the relative humidity should be below 50%.  Excess moisture can condense on the bar and draw out the sugar onto the surface.  A sugar bloom, like a fat bloom, won’t hurt you and simply disturbs the texture.  Again, give it a taste to decide its fate – eat it, mix it or toss it.

3.   Keep chocolate out of direct sunlight.  Not only will it heat up the chocolate, but sunlight will also degrade flavors.

4.  Avoid strong odors.  Thou shalt not keep chocolate in your refrigerator next to the garlic and kimchee.  Chocolate absorbs strong odors like sponge.  Also keep flavored bars such as mint, coffee or Theo’s Chai Tea chocolate in a separate box away from your plain chocolate and everything will taste as it should.

5.  Have no fear of the “best by” date.  Here’s a confusing little secret of the chocolate industry:  they put “best by” dates on the bars because packaging laws say they have to, but the dates are somewhat arbitrary.  Some chocolate makers are at a loss as to what date to use, so they basically copy the other guy.  Food needs moisture to grow bacteria and go bad.  Chocolate contains very little moisture and most of the moisture it has is bound up with sugar.  So, chocolate doesn’t really go “bad” in the sense that it can make you sick when it gets old.  Does the sugar in your sugar bowl ever go bad? No.  What does happen is that the fats in the cocoa butter break down under the influence of heat, light and oxygen causing off flavors to develop [3].

With properly stored chocolate bars, nothing much happens except some flavor and aroma slowly, very slowly, go away.  Even milk chocolate bars are very stable since they contain milk solids with very low moisture [1].  Yes, the fresher, the better, but if you discover something that’s out of date, your tongue will tell you if it’s worth eating or not.  Give it a taste test.

6.  Keep chocolate out of reach of dogs.  For some dogs, chocolate acts as a powerful stimulant and they can have a heart attack.  The reaction will depend upon the dog and how much they eat.  If your Chocolate Lab eats a chocolate bar, call your vet and ask what to do next.  Don’t panic.  They may be just fine – it depends upon the dog.

Old Theo Jane Dark in Good Condition

I discovered this Theo dark chocolate bar hiding in my stash. Although it’s now 18 months out of date, with proper storage, it’s in good condition with no bloom. The flavor, while not the same as a new bar, is still enjoyable with floral notes and honey. I’ll be keeping these.

7.  Store your chocolate in tightly sealed bags in a cooler in a dry basement.  This is how I keep most of my personal chocolate stash. Put the bars into good quality freezer bags and squeeze the air out before sealing.  Then put it all into a clean cooler or insulated box.  You should put mint and other strongly favored chocolates in their own sealed box or a separate cooler altogether.  Make sure there are no odors in the cooler or buy a new cooler for the purpose.   The basement should be reasonably dry – use a dehumidifier if needed and keep the chocolate well sealed.   No basement?  The bottom of a closet is the next best option as long as it doesn’t get too hot.  Your closet is too hot? Consider Tips 8 – 10 below.

8.  Invest in a wine cooler – This is a more expensive option, but allows you to control temperature best.  Most wine coolers  will have a temperature adjustment, so you can get it up into the 60-65°F range.  You can store wine and chocolate together, but be  sure the unit is clean and dry [2].  Wrap the bars as in Tip 7.

9.  Invest in a mini fridge and dedicate it to chocolate –  You know, the kind you find in dorm rooms.  Set it on the warmest temperature (you can check with a refrigerator thermometer).  Keep it clean and wrap the bars as in Tip 7.

10.  Wrap it up well for the fridge.  If you’ve come this far and you really must insist on putting chocolate in your refrigerator along with the rest of your food, I’m going to say OK, with a few conditions.  Put the bars into freezer bags, include a paper towel and squeeze out all the air.  Put the bags into tightly sealed food storage bins (A.K.A. “tupperware”).  As before, separate the strongly flavored bars such as mint with their own bin.  When it’s time to eat some chocolate, take out only the bag you need and allow it to warm up for 1 hour or more before opening the bag. This will prevent moisture from condensing on the chocolate [2].

ENJOYING WELL-KEPT CHOCOLATE

No matter how you store the chocolate, give it about 1 hour to warm up to room temperature before opening the bag and serving.  This will bring the flavors to life.  If you just can’t bear to wait that long, then take a square of chocolate and press it against the roof of your mouth with your tongue until it starts to melt.  Enjoy the release of flavors that ensues.  Repeat until satisfied.

Should you have any questions on keeping your chocolate well, just leave a comment.

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Notes and References:

[1] We’re talking about solid bars here – not truffles or bars filled with some fruit or dairy product.  Depending upon the filling, truffles can go bad quite quickly and are capable of growing mold and all sorts of maladies.    We’ll discuss storing truffles in another post.

[2] Credit goes to Clay Gordon for the wine cooler idea.  See C. Gordon, Discover Chocolate:  The Ultimate Guide to Buying, Tasting, and Enjoying Fine Chocolate.  Gotham, 2007.

[3] Greweling, Peter ., CMB, Chocolates and Confections, Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner, 2007, Wiley.

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Japanese Premium Dark Chocolate – Meiji The Premium Single

Meiji Dark Chocolate Squares on Package

The Chocolate is molded with precision into deep squares

I’m back in Tokyo this week and had chance to pick up some real Japanese chocolate.  It seems that the trend towards premium and single-origin chocolate has finally reached Japan’s shores.  Meiji Milk Company has been around for almost 100  years and makes various inexpensive chocolate bars that can be found in the ubiquitous Seven-Elevens and Lawsons stores throughout the country.  Now, for the first time, I’ve come across a Japanese-made dark chocolate bar that uses single-origin beans and is marketed as a “premium” chocolate.

The box explains single-origin chocolate

The box explains single-origin chocolate

Can the Japanese really make great chocolate bars?  After all, the food of the gods has its origins in Mesoamerica and was first transformed into drinking chocolate and what you would recognize as chocolate bars in Europe.  In fact, chocolate making seems to be far more intertwined with European culture which boasts easily over one hundred makers of bars alone – from Amedei to Zotter, never mind truffles and all the rest.  Europe has more practice and more history with refined chocolate than anyone else in the world. So, can a Japanese company really learn how to make a world class chocolate bar?

I will answer my own, intentionally naïve, question.  Yes, in my estimation, the Japanese are capable of making pretty much any fine or gourmet food you can think of.  When I lived in Japan with my family, we were delighted to hear that Tokyo had been deemed by Michelin to be “… a shining star in the world of cuisine[2].”  It’s an international city on par with any other and clearly people here get the concept and techniques behind fine food.

One of my favorite comfort foods when we lived here was the chocolate croissant.  When the walls of our tiny apartment started to close in, I would lead my then three-year-old son by the hand down to street level and around the corner to a delightful little bakery that might as well have been in New York or Paris.  The perfect little airy, buttery pastries made a lasting impression on both of us.  These are one of the few things my son can still remember from his time in Tokyo:   the “chocolate ‘a-sants.”

So, I have no doubt that Japan is capable of producing great chocolate, but Meiji Milk company?  Let’s taste some and see.

Dark chocolate from Dominican cacao beans

Dark chocolate from Dominica cacao beans

WHAT:   Meiji The Premium Single Dark Chocolate – Dominica.  61% Cacao. 58g. Ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, trehalose emulsifier (soy lecithin, sucrose esters of fatty acids), artificial flavor.

Where to buy in USA: H-Mart Stores.

WHEN: September 25, 2011

OVERALL RATING:  73

AROMA:  Heavy roast, smoked ham, roasted fig, green beans, vanillin.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS:  Malt.  It takes a while to open up, so not much else initially.

MIDDLE TASTE: Raspberry, oak, pine, cacao fruit.  I have to give them some credit for bringing out a bit of cacao fruit.

FINISH:  Cedar, caramel, wax beans.  Simple, not complex, but gets a few points for a long finish.

TEXTURE: A little dull, but melts fine.

LAST BITE:  Sorry guys, this is not a great bar.  Meiji is sort of the Hershey’s of Japan, so what can we expect?  Well premium should be premium, but to be fair and compare to something clearly not premium, I bought some “garden variety” Meiji chocolate from the closest Lawsons.  I found a pack of little dark chocolate squares called Meiji Black.  In Japan, they seem to like products with the simple designation: “Black”– noting some pure extreme or trying to draw in a masculine audience like the popular chewing gum called Black Black.

Meiji Black is their basic dark chocolate

Meiji Black is their basic dark chocolate

Well, the Meiji Black was as bad as the Hershey’s we all know – with an unnatural aroma of church-lady perfume and a flavor profile that boasts notes of salad oil, tomatoes, vanilla ice cream and marshmallow.  When you compare The Premium Single to that, then yes, these guys have made an honest effort, but they have a way to go yet.  Here’s my advice to Meiji:  you’re on the right track, but please get rid of all the artificial flavors – probably vanillin – and pay some closer attention to fermentation and roasting and you will have something closer to world class.  I’ve read that the quality of beans from the Commonwealth of Dominica can be excellent, so I don’t think there is anything wrong with the bean source.  You just need to work out some bugs the way you know best – practice, refine, purify, repeat.

Notes:

[1] I paid for these bars myself.

[2] Some doubted the validity of Michelin’s praise, but they did award 3 French restaurants their highest honor of 3-stars.

[3] Meiji is pronounced “may gee.”  Well, technically, “may ee gee” spoken quickly as “may gee.”