How To Store Cocoa Powder Long Term | Build a Stash

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Key Takeaways

  • Cocoa powder is a great pantry staple that can last years if stored properly.
  • The best way to store it is in airtight containers in a cool, dry, and dark location.
  • Cocoa powder does not go bad but can lose some flavor over time.
  • To check if the powder is bad, look for signs of moisture, mold, or an off smell.

Chocolate is one of life's delicacies. Cocoa powder is perfect for flavoring baked goods, drinks, and more. But how should you store cocoa powder long term?

Cocoa powder can be stored long-term in a cool, dark, and dry environment. It should be kept in an airtight container, like a mylar bag, with an oxygen absorber. When properly stored, cocoa powder can last almost indefinitely, but it will lose flavor and potency.

Everyone loves chocolate, and not having any on hand can be a deal breaker for an avid baker. I know the feeling and always have cocoa powder in my pantry for emergencies ( or just for a midnight cup of hot cocoa). In this article, I will talk about how to store cocoa powder long term, the expected shelf life, how to know when cocoa powder is bad, and more.

Table of contents


What Is Cocoa Powder?

Cocoa powder is a popular cooking and baking ingredient known for its rich chocolatey flavor. It is made from cacao tree beans native to Central and South America. The beans are fermented, dried, roasted, and ground into a fine powder.

History Of Cocoa Powder

The history of cocoa powder goes all the way back to the ancient Mayans and Aztecs. They  used cacao beans to make a bitter beverage called "xocolatl." The beans were highly valued and used as currency, and the drink was considered a sacred elixir used in religious ceremonies.

In the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors brought cocoa beans back to Europe, where they were used to make chocolate drinks sweetened with sugar.

The first chocolate factory was established in Switzerland in the 18th century, and the popularity of chocolate quickly spread throughout Europe and beyond.

Cocoa powder was first developed in the early 19th century by Dutch chocolate maker Coenraad Johannes van Houten.

Van Houten developed a method for separating cocoa butter from cocoa solids, which allowed him to create a fine, an easily soluble powder that was less bitter than traditional chocolate.

Today, cocoa powder is used to make yummy treats like hot chocolate and chocolate chips.

Types Of Cocoa Powder

There are two main types of cocoa powder: natural cocoa powder and Dutch-processed cocoa powder.

Natural cocoa powder is made by grinding cocoa beans and contains no added alkaline. However, Dutch-processed cocoa powder is treated with an alkaline solution, which makes it darker in color and less bitter than natural cocoa powder.

What Is Cocoa Powder Made From?

Cocoa powder is made from cocoa beans from the cacao tree. The cacao tree is native to Central and South America but is now grown in many tropical regions worldwide.

The process of making cocoa powder starts with the harvest of cocoa beans. The beans are removed from the cacao pods and then fermented to remove the pulp and develop the flavor of the beans.

After fermentation, the beans are dried, roasted, and cracked to separate the outer shell from the inner kernel, known as the "nib."

The cocoa nibs are ground into a chocolate liquor paste made of cocoa solids and butter. Chocolate liquor can be further processed to separate the cocoa solids from the cocoa butter, a valuable ingredient in many chocolate products.

The separated cocoa solids are then ground into a fine powder, which is what we know as cocoa powder. The powder can be further processed through "Dutch processing," The cocoa powder is treated with an alkaline solution to make it darker in color and less bitter.

What Is The Shelf Life Of Cocoa Powder?

If you have pure natural unsweetened cocoa powder made purely from the cacao bean, the cocoa powder shelf life can be well beyond the expiration date. The part of the bean which can spoil is the cocoa butter. However, this is removed during the process of making cocoa powder.

This is especially true if unopened. Many brands will last five or more years after the expiration date when still in their original container.

Once opened, the properly stored powder will last up to two years. After this time, it is best to swap it out to always have fresh and flavorful cocoa powder in the pantry.

How To Store Cocoa Powder Long Term

When storing cocoa powder with the long term in mind, it is important to take necessary precautions to protect it from moisture, oxidation, and heat.

Here are some of the methods for storing cocoa powder long-term:

Airtight Container in a Cool and Dark Location

Storing cocoa powder in a cool, dark and dry environment is best. However, you should keep it in an airtight container before storing it. This will keep any air, bugs and moisture out.

Oxygen Absorbers and Sealed Containers

Oxygen absorbers are inexpensive and readily available online. When placed in a sealed container, they remove oxygen, which protects the cocoa powder from oxidation, which can cause it to go rancid quickly.

Mylar bags or mason jars are the best options for airtight containers. Plastic containers are generally not airtight and are often not tightly sealed, so they should be avoided.


For those who live in humid environments, moisture can be a significant long-term issue for storing cocoa powder. Repackaging the cocoa powder in airtight containers on a low-humidity day or with a dehumidifier running can help.

Desiccants also help keep the moisture levels under control. The best part is that you can use them with oxygen absorbers too. Just make sure to place the desiccant at the bottom and the oxygen absorber at the top.

Vacuum Sealed

Vacuum sealing removes some air from the container, reducing the risk of oxidation and exposure to moisture. While it is better than using plastic bags, vacuum sealing is generally not ideal for extended long-term food storage. Using the cocoa powder within two years is best if you choose this method.

Does Powdered Cocoa Go Bad?

Cocoa powder stored in a cool, dark, and dry location will not “go bad.” It can lose some of its chocolate taste but will not make you sick if you add it to a recipe.

How to Tell if Cocoa Powder is Bad

Of course, checking the cocoa powder before making that next chocolate cake or baked goods is always best. When stored improperly,  cocoa powder can absorb moisture which can help mold and bacteria grow.

If you notice any clumping, discoloration, or a strange smell, it’s best to discard the cocoa powder. Any mold, insects, or rancid smell indicates that the cocoa powder is no longer safe for consumption.

Additionally, if you taste the cocoa powder and notice a sour taste or off-flavor, the powder has likely gone bad. You can also visually inspect the cocoa powder to check for any signs of spoilage.

For example, if the powder has turned yellow or brownish, it may be a sign that it has been exposed to moisture and has started to spoil.

If you’re unsure whether your cocoa powder has gone bad, it’s best to err on the side of caution and discard it. While the cocoa powder is not a high-risk food for bacterial growth, consuming spoiled cocoa powder can lead to food poisoning and other health issues.

Why Can Cocoa Powder Go Bad?

Cocoa powder spoilage can be attributed to various factors. The presence of moisture can lead to mold growth, which can occur if the moisture content exceeds 8%. To prevent this, the relative humidity in the air must be kept below 65% or 75%, depending on the type of cocoa beans.

However, this can be challenging in humid areas. Additionally, oxidation caused by oxygen in the air can cause the nutrients and fats in cocoa powder to deteriorate, resulting in loss of flavor and rancidity. This is why unopened cocoa powder containers have a longer shelf life than opened ones.

Finally, exposure to heat and high temperatures can cause the cocoa powder's fats to spoil quickly, resulting in a bitter taste. The heat can also separate the fats from the solids, causing changes in texture and color.

What Can I Do With Expired Cocoa Powder?

If you have expired cocoa powder that you would rather not use, there are still a few things you can do with it instead of throwing it away.

  • Use it for gardening: Cocoa powder is a natural fertilizer that can enrich the soil in your garden. Simply sprinkle the expired cocoa powder around your plants or mix it with your compost.
  • Make a chocolate face mask: Cocoa powder contains antioxidants that can benefit your skin. Mix the expired cocoa powder with honey and yogurt to create a chocolate face mask. Apply it to your face, leave it on for 10-15 minutes, then rinse with warm water.
  • Use it for arts and crafts: Expired cocoa powder can be used as a natural fabric dye or brown paint for art projects. Mix the cocoa powder with water and experiment with different shades and hues.
  • Create a natural insect repellent: The strong scent of cocoa powder can act as a natural insect repellent. Mix the expired cocoa powder with water and spray it around your home or garden to repel ants and insects.

Can I Use Oxygen Absorbers In Cocoa Powder?

Yes, using oxygen absorbers is a great way to extend the shelf-life of cocoa powder. Of course, the longer oxygen is kept from it, the better.

When stored correctly in an airtight container with an oxygen absorber, the cocoa powder will be protected from oxidation and maintain its quality for longer.

However, use oxygen absorbers specifically designed to store food long term and  follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Should Pure Cocoa Powder Be Refrigerated?

Pure cocoa powder does not need to be refrigerated. It can be stored in a cool, dark, and dry place, like a pantry or cupboard. Refrigerating cocoa powder is unnecessary and can cause moisture to build up, leading to mold growth and spoilage.

Can You Freeze Cocoa Powder?

Yes, you can freeze cocoa powder. Freezing cocoa powder is one of the best ways to store it long-term. Freezing will prevent the cocoa powder from going rancid or developing mold and help preserve its flavor and quality.

Store the cocoa powder in an airtight container, like a freezer bag or container, to protect it from moisture and freezer burn.

When ready to use, allow it to come to room temperature before opening the container to prevent condensation from forming on the powder.