Ask the Alchemist #79

How stable is chocolate tempered and non tempered? After removing finished chocolate from the melanger , can or should chocolate be tempered first or can it be put in ziplock bags straight from melanger ?

Welcome back for the continuation of our story. Before we continue, here is a photo of some fresh and month old raw nibs. The thing to note is the whitish edges on the older nibs.

nibs-fresh-vs-old.jpg

(click to embiggen)
This is my benchmark for fresh vs older in nibs. This is exactly the same nib (Ghana FT) but the one on the right was just cracked and winnowed and the previous one is about 30 days old. Now, if you have been paying attention, you will note that I said 1-2 years for raw nibs and here I am showing a difference at 30 days. True enough….and why you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover (goodness, I love analogy ). Sure, they look different, but the resulting chocolate, to my palette, is indistinguishable. It still takes a 1-2 years before you can taste the difference. On the other hand, roasted nibs don’t seem to change color this way, but I can taste the difference in a month or so. They do change color (after 4-6 months), but usually it is well after they have gone stale.Now let’s jump right into your next question.

I feel like a politician here. What do you mean by ‘stable’? Do you mean how long does it stay fresh? Or how long does it stay in the crystalline or non-crystalline structure it is in? Or do you mean how hard do you have to hit be before it detonates? Well, let’s get the easy one out of the way.

Chocolate, nor any of it’s components have any stressed or strained bonds. No triple bonds. No azo groups. No metal azides. Not even a little Hexanitrohexaazaisowurtzitane. In a word, chocolate, whether tempered or not tempered is 100% stable…in the sense that it won’t detonate or explode under any circumstance I can think of.

Great. We have that bit of fun out of the way. Technically, tempered chocolate is less stable than untempered chocolate. But here we are talking crystal structures, energies of enthalpy and the like. Suffice to say, because as it naturally occurs, tempered is less stable because it has a higher energy of enthalpy, and it converts to untempered spontaneous (if in liquid form without seed) because it is easier, (read lower energy). If I have not lost you there, great. If I have, just smile and nod and let’s move on because I don’t think it is really what you want to know.

By stable, I am going to assume you mean does tempered or untempered go stale faster or slower than the other. The answer to this is I think they are about the same, but I’m not sure, and even if they are not the same, other factors will play a great role. For this discussion, go for what is easiest (untempered) for storage and don’t sweat it. You don’t HAVE to temper it right from the melanger.

That brings us to liquor (i.e. cocoa mass, unrefined, unsweetened cocoa, etc) and chocolate. By far, except for unroasted beans, this is going to be your most stable form. And in the larger the volume the better.

To review, staling is oxidation. Solids don’t oxidize that easily. Think of rust. That is oxidation. The surface of iron rusts but it takes MUCH longer for rust to penetrate into a hunk of iron. There just isn’t anything moving to distribute oxygen. The amount of rust is proportional to the surface area. The exposed area more specifically. If you have a 1 lb block of iron and 1 lb of nails, the nails are going to have hundreds of times more rust because it they have hundreds of times the surface area. So the rule of thumb is whatever has the least surface area (exposed) will stale the slowest. That said, most people mold up chocolate after it is tempered. That means lots of pieces of chocolate (like nails) surface area compared to one bag of untempered chocolate. For the surface area reason the untempered chocolate should go stale slower than the tempered chocolate.

BUT…..wink….there are arguments that controlled aging (http://chocolatealchemy.com/2013/04/03/ask-the-alchemist-29/) of tempered chocolate is just another name for controlled staling. So maybe you want a little staling at the right time….See how clear this all is?

My recommendation is this. Keep it simple. Let chocolate making fit into your life. Relax and enjoy it. But plan a little.

  • Roast when you know you can let the beans rest a day to cool.
  • Winnow when you know you can make the chocolate within a week or so.
  • When your chocolate is done, bag it up (air tight, i.e. zero exposed surface area) in a ziplock bag until you are ready to temper.
  • When your chocolate is tempered and molded up…call it aging, not going stale.
  • And this is the most important

  • Eat and enjoy your chocolate you made with your own hands and don’t worry so much. It’s only chocolate (wink).

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