Nassau Candy’s Stier Discusses The Ins & Outs Of Proper Chocolate Storage

Cleveland — Storage and transportation of chocolate can have a major impact on product quality and consumer experience. Candy & Snack TODAY recently sat down with Nassau Candy’s Director of Manufacturing Garrett Stier to learn more about the best practices of chocolate handling. Stier oversees a team of more than 400 manufacturing associates and is one of seven family members working at the family-owned, wholesale manufacturer of specialty and private label confections. He joined the company in 2009, working on the factory floor to learn all jobs and aspects of manufacturing before rising to his current role.

Candy & Snack TODAY: We all understand how improper chocolate storage can impact a retailer’s bottom line, but how does it impact the customer experience?

Stier:  We eat with our eyes first so, you could carry the most expensive, elaborately decorated chocolate, but if it has a white haze (also known as bloom), or the product is melted, that will ruin the experience. No fun interior design or marketing campaigns can make up for quality product.

Candy & Snack TODAY: Is there chocolate that is unaffected by storage issues?

Stier: “High melt” chocolates do exist, but are predominantly used in the baking industry. Chocolate used in the confectionery industry is always susceptible to melting/storage issues. That’s because all chocolate types contain cocoa butter, and some, cocoa solids and milk too. The fat, contained in chocolate, combined with light, temperature and humidity, cause the majority of the storage issues.

Candy & Snack TODAY: How can retailers protect their chocolate?

Stier: The best way is to understand the major chemical reactions and storage conditions that impact chocolate quality, and store/protect product accordingly. Chocolate stored in the correct atmospheric conditions will remain “visually appealing” for a much longer time.

Candy & Snack TODAY: That sounds simple. What are some of the chemical reactions that can affect chocolate?

Stier: The most common and the most visual of the reactions that happen to chocolate is Ostwald Ripening, also known as fat bloom. A main cause of this is counterintuitive to what you might commonly think is important for storing food products — that cooler (to a certain degree), with controlled humidity, is better.

Candy & Snack TODAY: That’s interesting. So cooler is not better?

Stier: Not necessarily. You want it cool but, when chocolate is stored at too low a temperature for too long a time, the fat in it seeps to the surface and causes fat crystals to appear. These crystals trigger the white film you might have noticed on some chocolates. That’s fat bloom. If a white film isn’t unappealing enough, when chocolate with bloom is brought back to room temperature, it starts to ‘sweat.’ The surface of the chocolate becomes wet, which is really unappetizing. However, this is just a visual concern — the taste is still great. But since we eat with our eyes, customers might pass on purchasing this product.

Candy & Snack TODAY: That does sound unappealing. You mentioned that this is only one of the causes. What else causes fat bloom?

Stier: Another cause is when chocolate is kept at too warm a temperature, it melts (as you already know) and is brought back to a cooler temperature and re-solidifies. During the melting and solidification process, fat can rise to the surface and create that same white film. Depending on where your shop is located, this sort of fat bloom might only be an issue during summer months. But if you’re in an area of the country where it’s warm year-round, it’s a year-round issue.

Candy & Snack TODAY: We’ve heard what can go wrong with temperature and humidity but how do you make it right?

Stier: You want to store chocolate between 55°-65°F, with a humidity level of 50 to60 percent. These elements should be monitored throughout the day every day. You can do that by having a thermometer in your storage room and storage cases as well as a hygrometer in both locations to keep a constant eye on relative humidity.

Candy & Snack TODAY: Besides temperature and humidity. What other elements affect quality?

Garrett Stier

Stier: Exposure to air and light can give chocolate a rancid taste. This is called oxidation. Here the fat disintegrates, impacting taste and smell. Fortunately, the antioxidants in cocoa help slow the process a bit, making dark chocolate with a high cocoa content the least susceptible. Milk chocolate is at medium risk. White chocolate, with its high fat content, is the most susceptible to oxidation. To prevent oxidation, you want store chocolates in low light and in airtight containers. Keep your chocolate display cases and bulk bins away from direct sunlight and bright lights and keep products in an airtight container or wrapped in plastic when not in bulk buns or on display.

Along with light and air you need to look at the environment surrounding your chocolate as this can impact quality too.

Candy & Snack TODAY: What other environmental elements should we be examining?

Stier: Substances from the surrounding environment can be absorbed and affect chocolate’s quality, depending on how it’s packaged. For example, if the chocolate has a filled center, the water or alcohol that make up the filling can diffuse out of the chocolate, impacting quality and degrading the appearance. Think of jelly leaking out and crystalizing. This is another instance where keeping chocolate airtight is important.

Candy & Snack TODAY: So you need to look at all environmental elements — not just temperature and humidity?

Stier: Correct. Much like butter, chocolate has a high fat content from cocoa butter, making chocolate vulnerable to absorbing scents — particularly nearby flavors from the environment, like a mint or berry filling. White chocolate is the most susceptible to taking on the flavor or scent of other foods because it has the highest fat content and lightest flavor. So, it’s best to keep your stronger flavor filled chocolates away from other chocolate items, regardless of type.

This not only goes for what products are stored near your chocolate, but where in your business the chocolate is stored. Grocery stores and specialty shops need to take into account a seafood or cheese department in proximity to chocolate displays. These smells have the potential to seep into chocolate and impact flavor.

Candy & Snack TODAY: Most retailers are purchasing chocolate from a distributor. Do they need to be concerned with storage during transport as well?

Stier: The same environmental controls that apply to chocolate storage in store, apply to the distributor supplier and their shipping methods. You want to know if your supplier is using refrigerated trucks to transport product. Is the product shipped in plastic and in a solid box to prevent oxidation and scent transmission? While you most likely won’t have a distributor right around the corner, in this instance, buying local is often better. The longer product is on the road, the higher the chance for issues to arise. A supplier with multiple local distribution centers across the country can be an asset.