Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Prepper's Pantry: Chocolate

Everyone knows about chocolate, one of the most popular edibles in the world. Most people like it, many love it, some can't eat it for health reasons, and a few simply don't enjoy the flavor. As a bonus, by the time this post is published Halloween will have just ended, which means all sorts of chocolate will be on sale.

The origin of chocolate comes from the region known as Mesoamerica, an area that ranges from central Mexico down to northern Costa Rica, where the cacao tree is native. It was harvested and processed primarily for use as a beverage by native tribes, possibly fermented in some manner.

The first European to encounter cacao was most likely Christopher Columbus, though it didn't make much impact on his return. It wasn't until Spanish interaction with the Aztecs by Hernan Cortez that chocolate became more known in Europe, though at first only as a medical treatment of abdominal and digestive issues, most likely due to its extreme bitterness.

It took a few hundred years to develop industrial processes to make chocolate both palatable and inexpensive enough for mass marketing. Today, of course, chocolate is available in a bewildering array of flavors and mixes, usually at a fairly reasonable price. It has many types including bakingdarkmilk, and modeling, with these types coming in both solid and powdered forms for different uses. (There's also white chocolate, but as that's just sugar lying about being chocolate, so we won't discuss it here.)
A selection of the author's chocolate stash

Chocolate can pack a lot of energy in a fairly small package, especially if mixed with nuts, seeds and dried fruits as in trail mix. This makes it an excellent choice for outdoor activities such as hiking. During World War II the United States Government, in cooperation with various American chocolate companies, developed the D-Ration, a moderately palatable 4oz bar designed for use in emergencies. These came in packages of three bars of roughly 600 calories each to make a soldier's, marine's, or airman's daily ration in extreme situations.

There are three major concerns when it comes to chocolate for emergency use: melting, going rancid, and eating it all before an emergency occurs. Proper packaging and storage can help with the first two, no power in the universe has been found to prevent the third.

Chocolate is best stored in a cool, dry, dark place, ideally between 65 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and should be kept in an airtight container or packaging, because chocolate can easily pick up the odors of surrounding foods. When stored in this manner, it can last quite a while: milk chocolate can stay fresh for over a year, dark chocolate for nearly two years, and filled chocolates (i.e. chocolates with a non-chocolate filling) for around three to four months. If stored in the freezer, this duration can be increased, perhaps even doubled. Of course, this assumes the chocolates don't get eaten before then. 

There are two things to keep in mind as chocolate gets old: texture and bloom
  • Texture: As chocolate ages, some of the more liquid volatiles will escape, causing the chocolate to have a more crumbly or grainy texture. This has little to no effect on the nutritive or energy value, just the mouthfeel
  • Bloom is a white coating that may appear on the surface of chocolate following prolonged storage. This is due to either fat or sugar migrating to the surface as the chocolate ages.
Neither of these issues are anything to be concerned about, but should be considered as part of the storage and rotation of supplies.

Chocolate can be enjoyed in many ways: as an ingredient in baked goods, in beverages, confectionary of various types, as an element of trail mix, and, of course, as a simple chocolate bar for a treat... but I think we can all agree that the best chocolate is the type you get for free  on Halloween and Valentine's Day, or on sale afterwards. 

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