How to Store Cocoa Powder Long Term (Shelf Life and Storage Options)

Want to buy cocoa powder in bulk or stockpile it with your emergency food supply? 

Here’s what we will cover:

  • Does cocoa powder go bad?
  • Best-by dates
  • How to store cocoa powder long-term.

Does Cocoa Powder Go Bad?

Cocoa powder is considered shelf-stable. If kept dry, mold and bacteria won’t be able to grow on it, and the cocoa powder will remain safe to eat for years after its best-by date.

However, cocoa powder contains a lot of natural fats. When exposed to heat or oxygen, these fats will eventually go rancid. Rancid cocoa powder is still safe to eat but can develop a bad taste.

Reasons for cocoa powder spoilage are

  1. Moisture: Keeping it dry is critical for storing cocoa powder long-term. If cocoa powder gets to over 8% moisture, mold can start to grow. To keep the moisture levels below this, the relative air humidity in the air must be less than 65% or 75% (depending on the type of cocoa beans). This can be problematic if you live somewhere humid.

2. Oxidation: Oxygen in the air will cause the nutrients and fats in cocoa powder to degrade, causing the cocoa powder to lose flavor and go rancid. This is why unopened containers of cocoa powder will last longer than opened containers.  

3. Heat: Heat will cause fats to go rancid fairly quickly, meaning the cocoa powder will develop a nasty taste. Heat can also cause the fats in the cocoa powder to separate from the solids, causing changes in color and texture.

Cocoa Powder Best-By Date

There is no expiration date for cocoa powder. However, manufacturers will put a “best-by” date on the packaging because cocoa powder will lose its flavor over time. 

There are no federal guidelines for best-by dates on foods: the manufacturer gets to decide these dates. Unless it has been improperly stored, cocoa powder will still be safe to eat years after its best-by date.

Antioxidants in Cocoa Powder and Shelf Life

One long-term concern with storing cocoa powder is that its antioxidants will die over time, meaning the cocoa powder doesn’t provide as much nutrition. While this is the case with many types of food, the antioxidants in cocoa powder are surprisingly stable.

One study looked at various cocoa products and found that, when stored at 68F to 78F, the flavonoid levels remained stable for more than 800 days.   Even cocoa powder which was 80 years old, still had high antioxidant activity.

Best Methods for Storing Cocoa Powder Long Term

1. Airtight Container in the Freezer

The freezer is probably your best option for storing cocoa powder long-term if you live somewhere very warm. The fats in cocoa powder won’t go rancid in the freezer, nor will bacteria or mold be able to grow.

Be warned that cocoa powder can absorb smells from the freezer, so you’ll want to repackage it in airtight containers. Some people vacuum seal it in two bags before putting it in the freezer for storage.

2. Airtight Containers with Oxygen Absorbers

Oxygen absorbers are little packets of iron that remove oxygen from the air. They are cheap and easy to buy online. If you put an oxygen absorber in an airtight container, you essentially create an oxygen-free environment for the cocoa powder.   

This protects the cocoa powder from oxidation so nutrients last longer. The cocoa powder will still go rancid if exposed to heat, but at least it won’t go rancid as quickly.

For oxygen absorbers to work, the container must be airtight. The best option is Mylar bags; Mason jars with two-part lids also work well. There are very few plastic containers that are actually airtight, though.

For more info, read:

3. Moisture Control  

If you live somewhere humid, you’ll need to protect the cocoa powder from moisture, so it doesn’t get moldy. You’ll need to repackage it into airtight containers. Make sure you do the repackaging on a low-humidity day or have your dehumidifier running. Otherwise, you’ll put humid cocoa powder in a sealed environment.

Desiccants (such as clay discs or silica gel packets) can also help control moisture inside the container. If you want to use desiccants and oxygen absorbers, ensure the desiccant is at the bottom of the container and the oxygen absorber at the top!

Pro Tip: To prevent moisture pockets from forming, never keep bags of food directly on the floor or against a wall!

4. Vacuum Sealing

Vacuum sealing removes some (but not all) of the air around the cocoa powder, thus protecting it from some oxidation. Vacuum sealer bags also provide some protection against moisture.

However, for reasons discussed here, vacuum sealing generally is not recommended for long-term food storage – vacuum sealing vs. mylar bags.

Only use this method if you plan on using the cocoa powder within 2 years.

How to Tell Whether Cocoa Powder Is Still Safe to Eat?

The best way to tell if cocoa powder is safe to eat is to smell it and rub a bit between your fingers.

If the cocoa powder feels moist and smells bad, it may be growing mold or bacteria: it’s better to play it safe and throw it out.

It has probably gone rancid if the cocoa powder feels dry and smells sour or fishy. Eating rancid cocoa powder won’t give you food poisoning, but it doesn’t taste good.

Cocoa Powder Changing Color

Cocoa powder contains some cocoa butter. It’s normal for the cocoa butter to separate from the solids during storage. 

The fats often end up on the surface, causing the color to change. This is known as “cocoa butter bloom.” 

It is entirely safe to eat cocoa and chocolate products with bloom. The higher the fat content of the cocoa powder, the more likely bloom is to occur.

Cocoa Powder Became Gritty

When exposed to heat, the fat in cocoa powder can start to swell. This can cause the cocoa powder to get gritty.   So long as the cocoa powder is dry, it should still be safe to eat, but the texture might not be ideal anymore.

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