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Can Cocoa Powder Go Bad?

Cocoa powder adds such a nice richness to so many recipes without adding extra sugar or fat, but after the holiday baking is over, you may be left with a pretty full container. Can cocoa powder go bad? Should you use up the rest of the canister, or will it keep indefinitely? Read on to find out!

Can Cocoa Powder Go Bad?

Like many baking ingredients, while cocoa powder doesn’t typically spoil for a very long time, it will eventually lose its potency and will no longer flavor your baked goods in quite the same way. When properly stored, unopened cocoa powder will have a shelf life of two to three years past the printed expiration date. After this, the quality will begin to degrade. Once opened, the official shelf life of cocoa powder decreases to about a year, though there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that unopened cocoa powder will last for much longer before going bad, or losing flavor.

There is also the chance that cocoa powder can spoil, or become moldy, though this is quite rare. So long as cocoa powder is stored properly, and clean utensils are always used, the main concern will likely be a decline in quality and flavor.

A Spoonful of Cocoa Powder

Image used under Creative Commons from Jayca

How to Test if Cocoa Powder Has Gone Bad

To tell if the cocoa powder is still good for baking and full of flavor, taste a little bit before adding it to the recipe to make sure that the final product will actually taste chocolatey. If you can’t taste chocolate, you might want to make a trip to the grocery store!

While it’s highly unlikely to occur, cocoa powder can also eventually go rancid. The process of making cocoa powder removes most of the fat (cocoa butter) from the chocolate, but some does remain in the resulting product. About half the fat in cocoa powder is saturated fat, which is more stable than its unsaturated counterparts and less likely to go rancid, but spoilage is still possible. Storing the cocoa powder in a very warm climate can increase the likelihood that it will go rancid.

To determine if the cocoa powder in your cabinet has spoiled, give it a good sniff! Rancid food has a quite unpleasant odor, and will be easy to identify. If you find that your cocoa powder has gone rancid, it should not be consumed, as it will not only taste unpleasant, but is likely to cause digestive problems.

In rare occasions where the cocoa powder has become wet, or is stored in a moist environment, it can potentially grow mold. Any sign of mold is an indication that the cocoa powder should not be consumed.

How to Store Cocoa Powder

Cocoa powder should be stored in a cool, dry place in a tightly sealed container. Restricting exposure to moisture, heat and oxygen is important to keep the cocoa powder from spoiling. While for most people, storing cocoa powder in the refrigerator is unnecessary, if you live in a very hot climate, this may be the best option.

Be sure that the container powder is tightly sealed while in the refrigerator to prevent any excess moisture from coming in contact with the cocoa powder. Moisture will promote mold growth, even in the cold environment.

Freezing cocoa powder isn’t really necessary, as it won’t extend the shelf life much beyond regular storage. However, if you must store cocoa powder in the freezer, be sure that the container is completely airtight, as the freezer is actually a very humid environment. Freezer bags might be too porous and let moisture in, so a more rigid container is preferred. Cocoa powder that has been frozen will thaw quite quickly because of the low moisture level, and can be used as normal in recipes. Freezing will not change the texture, and should not change the taste if the container is sealed.