Well the Christmas rush is over, and this by far was the busiest I’ve ever been for any holiday I’ve made chocolates for…by far! A little underprepared, which caused a few scrambles here and there. Thankfully only one shipping snafu, though one is definitely less than desirable, but better one than two or five. I came out of the holiday season extremely exhausted, exhilarated, and with a whole new toolset of slides to use in future of things that went really well, and things to change. I can say that I’m already in the advanced planning/prep stages for Valentine’s day (I feel like a grocery store, I already had my Valentine’s menu planned and it wasn’t even New Years!). But I guess that’s what you have to do to stay ahead of the game.
However I digress, let’s get back on track with the topic at hand…shelf life of Yeti Chocolates.
During the holiday season, and really every time I make chocolates, the issue of shelf life comes in to play. With good reason I suppose, as no one wants to eat a moldy chocolate. And trust me, I don’t want to sell one either. That is why I generally err on the side of caution when writing the “Best Before” date on my chocolate boxes.
The problem is that people are so conditioned at seeing a date and thinking that once that date passes they cannot eat the product. That is not always the case. And there are times that a product will have a date listed and expire before that date comes to pass. I actually had that happen to me this morning with a carton of cream, the date said 1/24/14, but it was definitely not probably acceptable to consume (even though I did as to not waste a good expensive cup of Stumptown coffee).
The problem I have with putting an expiration date on my chocolates is that every one of them has a different shelf life, which makes it tricky to pin point exactly when they will go bad. That is why I put “Best Before” versus “Expires On” or “Sell By”, simply because I’m giving you a guideline with which I feel is around the optimal date with which you should eat your chocolates. Are they immediately going to go bad the day after the “Best Before” date? Of course not. But I’m trying to also make it known that you shouldn’t wait 6 months before you eat them either.
We have become pretty accustomed to Twinkies, canned goods, and highly preserved foods that give us this false sense of security that all of our food has this amazingly long shelf life. But what you need to remember is that like fresh vegetables and fruit, my chocolates have a shorter shelf because they aren’t filled with a ton of preservatives. And if I used them they may make them last longer, but probably won’t make them taste as good.
Another thing to remember is that unlike that Hersey(TM) bar at the store that will probably last 6-12 months, these are truffles/bonbons/filled chocolates, and it’s the ganache (the yummy center) that makes them less shelf stable.
Why is this? Well it’s due to (Aw) or water activity level. What is water activity level to the non-scientific population? Well, simply put, it’s the amount of free water available in a ganache that can sustain mold growth. The more water available for mold/bacterial growth, the shorter the shelf life. There are many ways to reduce the free water in ganaches, using butter over cream, using invert sugars or glucose to bind the free water, using artificial preservatives, etc.
Given that I’m trying to create the freshest, most delicious chocolate possible, I have made the choice of not using any artificial preservatives in my chocolates. I sacrifice shelf life over taste, which most people seem to appreciate. But there are many out there who baulk a bit when I tell them my chocolates only have a 2-3 week shelf life, but I feel it creates a higher quality product that I’m proud to provide to my customers.
Based on the research I’ve done, and I’m currently doing my own little experiment, the shelf life of the less shelf stable chocolates (primarily cream or water based ganaches) is up to 12 weeks before mold growth is present. Do I recommend you wait 12 weeks before eating your chocolates? Heck NO! I mean, why would you even want to wait that long to eat chocolates anyway. I’m more of the proponent of once they are purchased or have arrived on your door step, savor, savor, savor, and maybe try and hold out from consuming the entire box in one sitting, at least try and have two sittings before they are all gone.
I know this has turned into a saga of epic proportions, but to recap what I want you to take away from this is that the “Best Before” date written on the bottom of the box is not an expiration date, but more of a guideline with which you base your own chocolate eating adventure timeline. Don’t wait 6 months from the date, but try and consume within a week or two of the date…though I’ll admit I’ve eaten them a month after the date and they’ve been fine; not their peak by any means, but still palatable. Remember! I’d rather you eat them when they are at their peak of freshness.
And if you’re curious which chocolates have a shorter versus longer shelf life, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll give you a detailed list of what types are each of the chocolates (cream ganache, butter ganache, caramel, coconut milk ganache, etc) and their estimated shelf life.
Stay tuned in the next couple weeks for the Valentine’s menu and some more exciting developments in Yeti Chocolates!