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Does cocoa powder go bad?

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I was rummaging in the cupboard and rediscovered the "cocoa balls," walnut-sized lumps of what seems to be just straight cocoa powder (no sugar or milk solids included), that I brought back in dozens from the open-air market in St. George's, Grenada, in 2002. You are supposed to boil them in milk, strain into a mug, and sweeten to taste to make hot cocoa. Cocoa powder has some fat in it, and could therefore theoretically go rancid, right? I probably wouldn't worry at all about using a five-year-old tin of Hershey's cocoa powder, but these being all-"natural" gives me greater pause. They've been stored in an airtight glass jar but have not been temperature-controlled. They look and smell fine. What do you think--should I use the golden retriever method of testing suspect food (1. Eat. 2. Did it make you barf? If not, repeat), or is eating anything that's five years old just a bad idea?

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  1. Short answer: every organic compound is subject to oxididation. In addition, the powder tends to absorb moisture (no matter how minute) which tends to affect flavor. So yes, cocoa powder will got "bad", but it's probably safe to eat except for extreme cases of moldiness and related toxins - taste is another matter and tends to suffer long before the freshness date.

    1. In general, old stuff doesn't bother me; but I will never forget many years ago, a girl I worked with made hot chocolate for her and her father and when they drank it there were some kind of worms in it. It wouldn't stop me but I would look at it first just because of this. I'm sure it was Swiss Miss or something though. Just the thought of old hot choc triggers this weird memory, sorry I had to share! Since it was in a jar, I'd definitely try it.

      1. This form of coco is good for life... well almost. I lived in the caribbean for three yrs and this is wat i know... I got even older coco sticks in a plastic bag mine are great!! I accually made some the other day and im fine!! There is no additives in this coco, so its pure and when they make it, it has to go through alot of heat processes anyway.

        1. cocoa powder has almost no fat in it. the flavor will fade, but the chance of it going rancid is astronomically small.

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          1. re: hotoynoodle

            I'm not worried about rancidity (it's not much of a worry even with chocolate), but fat content does vary (and is generally higher the better the cocoa quality). The tin of Peet's dutch-process cocoa in my cupboard says it has 1.4 g fat per level teaspoon, so not entirely negligible.

          2. great post. My mother in law gave me her old container of cocoa powder. I honestly don't know how old that cocoa powder is so it's just sitting in my pantry. I don't really want to throw it out but I also don't want to make something with it with a risk of having bad tasting dessert...not to mention wasting other good ingredients like butter and eggs.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Monica

              Try a cup of hot cocoa before you bake with it?