Ask the Alchemist #25

I am wondering about chocolate and refrigeration. How does it affect chocolate in setting up during molding, in storage, and in transport for shipping? Does the moisture have a negative impact?

It is kind of interesting (to me) how questions like this come up just a short time after I’ve done some experimentation. In particular, how refrigeration affects the tempering process. Let us take each stage and see how forced chilling and cooling temperatures affect chocolate.

To begin, even though it was not asked, I’m going to touch on cocoa beans, nibs and butter. If you have clean, pest-free cocoa beans, you get cold beans. No really. That’s it. It does not significantly affect how fresh your beans are or how long they keep. Most beans have shelf lives in the years. Maybe if you have a full 70 kg bag that you want to keep fresh, it might be of some use. But if you only have a few pounds, the hope and expectation is you will be using them before they can deteriorate. And really, a cold temperature is only going to extend the life 10-15% BUT the chance of moisture getting in and lessening the shelf life is much greater. Cool and dry and you are fine. And this goes with nibs and cocoa butter also. In 8 years, I’ve never had either go ‘bad’. One quick note here though. This is for raw beans. Roasted cocoa beans are a different story…but only slightly. Roasted beans do go stale after a couple weeks to a month. Not really bad – but no longer vibrant. But again, refrigeration hardly helps. The chemical reactions that cause beans to go stale are nearly unaffected by cold temperatures. All you end up with are cold stale beans. Basically fresh is best.

Moving on to tempering, I tried the following. I took some tempered, liquid chocolate from my tempering bowl and put one mold’s worth in the refrigerator, one at room temperature and one outside in the ‘cool’ weather (about 55-60 F). What I found was a little surprising to me. The two unrefrigerated ones worked just fine. But the refrigerated one actually bloomed. Why is this? Well, it’s conjecture on my part, but I think it tried to rush the crystallization process too much. The Type V crystals could not form fast enough around the seed, so at the surface where the chocolate was forced to set up, other crystals were formed, and that is basically the definition of bloom. As for the other two, the ‘cool’ one did best. Basically picture perfect. The cool temperature encouraged even, smooth crystal growth and the Type V formed through out. As for the room temperature one, it was moderate. There was just a touch of swirl on the surface. Basically just the barest hint of ‘almost bloom’. In this case, the ‘warm’ extended the tempering process too long, and a few other crystals had a chance to form on the surface. So, it’s basically the Goldilock’s syndrome. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right is what is needed for a good consistent temper. Which unsurprisingly is why there are cooling boxes and tubes in many commercial chocolate factories. Basically it’s a way to control the final stage of the tempering process.

As for storage – we are basically back at cool and dry are best. My rule of thumb is if you are comfortable, your chocolate will be comfortable. If you are in upper east or west nowhere, and it is does not get above the melting point of tempered chocolate (90-92 F) then you are good to go. If you are down south, where it’s 95 F in the shade, yeah, go ahead and double bag your chocolate (chocolate REALLY likes to absorb odors) and put it into the refrigerator.

Finally, transport. That’s tough. In the summer, even if it is pretty cool, many transport vehicles can get HOT, and if you don’t do anything to protect your tempered chocolate (like with ice or cold packs) it will most likely melt and then bloom. And depending on how far you have to ship, there may simply be no good solution except to wait for cooler weather before shipping. But I will point out that cocoa butter is FINE. I ship all the time in hot weather. The bags are double sealed, the cocoa butter melts in transport, sets up when it arrives and is none the worse for the adventure. Sure, it’s not tempered, but it was not tempered when it left here and you are going to be melting it anyway.

That’s basically it. Think comfort. If you are comfortable, your chocolate will be comfortable. Goldilocks zone baby, Goldilocks. Not too hot, not too cold but just right.

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