Chocolate, that wonderful temptation, rarely sticks around long enough for you to wonder about its expiration date. But if you've recently discovered a box of candy that was a gift from Aunt Myrtle last Christmas, you may be wondering if it's still good to eat. As long as there's nothing but chocolate inside, you can probably indulge without fear.
Chocolate Shelf Life
Stored properly, plain chocolate can be kept indefinitely, though most chocolate makers recommend you eat it within six to nine months to limit the likelihood of extreme temperature conditions or improper storage affecting the quality. If the chocolate has other ingredients, it may have a shorter shelf life or need refrigeration.
Proper Chocolate Storage
Ideally, chocolate should be well-wrapped in an airtight container, such as a tin, plastic storage container or glass jar. Keep it in a cool area with little or no humidity where the temperature is approximately 63 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep moisture away from the candy, and allow air to circulate freely around the chocolate container.
Improperly stored chocolate is subject to two kinds of changes in appearance: fat bloom and sugar bloom. With fat bloom, the chocolate has gotten too warm, and the cocoa butter used to make the chocolate emerges on top of the chocolate and makes the chocolate look dull or gray and feel oily. With sugar bloom, condensation forms on the chocolate. This can happen if the room is too humid, or if cold chocolate is moved to a warm room. The sugar crystallizes and can make the chocolate grainy. Chocolate bloom doesn't make the chocolate inedible, but it can affect the texture and appearance and make the candy unappealing.
If chocolate candy contains other ingredients, they can alter the shelf life of the product. Truffles, for example, need to be refrigerated unless they are going to be eaten immediately. The interior of the truffle is perishable, and the candy will only last a week or two in the refrigerator. Fudge can be kept much longer, as long as two or three months, if it is stored in an airtight container at room temperature. Chocolate-covered nuts, pretzels and various types of brittles can also be kept at room temperature in an airtight container for several weeks or up to a month.
Freezing and Melting
Although it won't affect the taste dramatically, freezing chocolate can alter its appearance. Defrosting often causes chocolate bloom, which you may not want. If chocolate is only intended for candy-making, it can be melted and reformed several times. After melting, the chocolate may get fat bloom as it hardens, but the bloom will disappear once the chocolate is melted again. Be careful not to overheat the chocolate while melting, which can result in grainy candy.