If the #1 rule to purchasing a home is, “Location, Location, Location,” then the #1 rule of food storage is, “rotation, rotation, rotation.” I mention it because some thirty-year-old brown sugar and chocolate chips recently came into my possession, and it probably would have been good if it had been rotated out a few decades ago, but no one gave a thought to storing cookie ingredients.
Because I am an intrepid prepper, and also slightly reckless, I decided to make some chocolate chip cookies with it, as an experiment. Sugar has a shelf life of many, many years, and since the chocolate chips had been stored in a very cool location, they were perfectly fine. If you want to store chocolate of any kind, rather than bet on pure luck and cool temperatures, you should repackage them according to the instructions in this article.
Before I tell you how my cookies using these old ingredients turned out, I’ll relate some useful information I discovered about storing cookie ingredients — precious ingredients crucial to making our favorite treats.
Storing cookie ingredients the right way
A lot of people store chocolate as an important part of their emergency preparedness. Even though something like chocolate cannot be considered a necessity, the availability of your most beloved dessert can do wonders for morale during a crisis. Let us discuss the humble chocolate chip cookie as an example.
The main ingredients of this treat include butter, sugar (white and brown), white flour, vanilla extract, and chocolate chips. Some of these are trickier to store than others, but with good planning and efficient rotation, you can always be confident that you can have cookies within your grasp at a moment’s notice.
Properly storing the key ingredients
The zoning laws in my town prohibit me from keeping a dairy animal in my (very small) back yard, so I have had to make do with keeping a stash of butter in the freezer. I’ve never needed to keep any single package of butter in the freezer for more than a couple months – not nearly enough time for it to go bad. However, one friend keeps many, many pounds of storebought butter in her freezer and says they have never had an “off” flavor, even after several months.
Commercially canned butter is also available, and it has a guaranteed shelf life of at least two years, according to the manufacturer. This option is much pricier, but may prove a godsend if you are without electricity, and by extension, refrigeration. Other manufacturers also offer powdered butter. Powdered butter is useful in recipes, including baking, and when mixed with water, it produces a nice spread for bread and rolls. It’s one drawback is that it does not melt in a pan. For that, you’ll need canned butter or homemade.
Some friends of mine like to use oil in place of butter in their cookies. If that’s the case for you, then you definitely need to read about techniques for storing oil long-term. Warning: it goes rancid quickly.
White sugar is exceedingly shelf-stable and can practically withstand a nuclear blast. Brown sugar, however, has a tendency to become rock-hard over time. One suggestion is to nix brown sugar entirely, and store white sugar and molasses, instead. Add a small amount of molasses to the white sugar, and voila! Messy, but effective. Molasses has a shelf life of 18 months to two years.
Before you throw out all your old brown sugar, though, know that it can easily be softened by storing it with a piece of bread or another moist food item. I was able to soften some brown sugar that was at least thirty years old. Once it had regained some of its moisture, it looked and tasted completely untouched by time.
So much digital ink has been spilled discussing the pros and cons of storing white flour, I don’t feel the need to further expand upon it. In short: white flour is not something that can be stored for long periods of time, but with proper rotation it can be a very good thing to have. Around the holidays, prime baking season when prices are quite low, stock up on a year’s worth of flour and store it in the freezer for longest shelf life. Use this list to stock up on flour as well as many other foods over the holiday sale season.
Vanilla and other flavoring extracts are alcohol-based and if stored improperly have a tendency to quietly evaporate away. Stored in a dark place in a tightly sealed container, however, vanilla extract can have a very long and happy shelf life. For longer term, begin experimenting with homemade recipes that typically call for a vanilla bean (make sure you use a fresh one) and vodka. This is one time when even teetotalers have a good reason to buy liquor!
Alas, chocolate is temperamental. Chocolate in bar and chip form contains a lot of fat solids, and these can bloom or go rancid. Some people recommend storing chocolate in the freezer in its original packaging, taking care not to allow condensation to appear upon the surface of the chocolate, and also ensuring that it does not change temperature too rapidly.
Chocolate manufacturers suggest that under ideal conditions, chocolate will remain in its pristine condition for up to two years, though it will still be edible for some time after that. Another thing to consider is that chocolate can absorb the flavors of other foods – flavor transfer can occur through plastic packaging.
An option that works quite well for a lot of food storage experts is storing chocolate in canning jars, and using a jar sealer to vacuum out the air and damaging oxygen. I can personally vouch for this system after storing various types of chocolate candies for months at a time.
To summarize, while some of these ingredients can be stored for several decades with no ill effects, others will benefit from a good system of rotation. Successfully storing cookie ingredients is possible.
About those cookies I mentioned…
So what about those chocolate-chip cookies made with thirty-year-old chocolate chips? Before baking, the chocolate chips tasted decidedly “off,” though in a way that is difficult to describe. One taste-tester suggested that they had absorbed some flavor from the brown sugar with which it was stored.
After baking, the chocolate chips failed to melt in the usual way to which I have become accustomed. I thought the cookies tasted fine so I served them to several people who noticed no difference in taste – including some picky toddlers I happen to know. My husband, however, was aware that the chocolate chips were put into storage during the Iran Hostage Crisis and did not appreciate being fed poison. He said, “I feel like I just got hit with something weird.” That was definitely the chocolate chips.
Rotation, rotation, rotation.
UPDATED: December 3, 2017