Does Cocoa Powder Go Bad? [Shelf Life and Expiration]

Here’s all you need to know about the shelf life and expiration of cocoa powder. Learn whether cocoa powder ever goes bad and how long it lasts.

You’re preparing to bake your favorite chocolate cake. You gathered the ingredients to make sure you have everything that’s needed before you start, and bam, cocoa powder is past its date.

Does cocoa powder go bad? Can that powder make anyone sick?

Those are the questions that are going through your head right now, and you need answers.

If that sounds familiar, you’re in the right place.

Let’s jump right in.

Valrhona Cocoa Powder and Cadbury Cocoa Powder
Image used under Creative Commons from jamieanne

Does Cocoa Powder Go Bad?

Cocoa powder doesn’t really go bad if stored properly, but it slowly loses its chocolatey flavor over time. That said, cocoa powder should still make delicious brownies, cakes, and hot chocolate even after a couple of years past the printed date.

So before you toss your expired cocoa powder, give it a good whiff, rub a pinch between your fingers, and taste it. If the smell and taste are still there, your fudge and chocolate frosting will turn out perfectly fine.

Of course, it’s not like cocoa powder cannot go bad. In some cases, tossing it is the only option.

Let’s talk about that.

Baked and served brownie
Cocoa powder is a crucial ingredient in brownies

How to Tell if Cocoa Powder Is Bad?

Discard your cocoa powder if it has developed an off smell, is infested by pantry bugs, or has any wet clumps or mold in the package.

Do the same if it has lost its signature smell or doesn’t taste like much. If that’s the case, the powder is still safe to use but basically useless in cooking. Hence you should get rid of it.

Small clumps are perfectly fine, and you can easily break them up using a fork. Or you can sift them, which is a common step in recipes for baked goods.

Finally, if there aren’t any visible changes to the powder and it smells just fine, you can safely use it. As I mentioned earlier, if it’s geriatric cocoa, its taste might be a bit weaker, but it will be safe to use nonetheless.

Sifting cocoa powder and flour
Sifting breaks up small clumps

How Long Does Cocoa Powder Last?

Cocoa powder (unopened or opened)Best by + 1 -2 years

Cocoa powder has a shelf life of two to four years and typically retains quality for a few years beyond the printed date.

Opening the container doesn’t affect the storage time much if you store the powder in a cool and dry place sealed tightly. If not, the powder might absorb moisture from the environment, or its flavor might dissipate, shortening its shelf life.

In other words, cocoa powder has a pretty long shelf life, and it doesn’t go bad easily if you do the bare minimum of sealing the container or bag and placing it in a decent spot.

Making gingerbread cookies
Gingerbread cookies rely on cocoa for their color

After Expiration Date

Cocoa powder usually keeps well beyond the printed date, but unfortunately, it’s impossible to say exactly how long it will retain quality. One to two extra years is a pretty safe bet, but that’s just an estimate. Yours might lose flavor much sooner or keep quality for way longer.

As I mentioned in the section on going bad, rubbing cocoa powder between fingers and sniffing and tasting it is a decent way to test if it’s still good enough to use.

Alternatively, you can quickly prep some hot chocolate. All you need is milk, sugar, and cocoa powder. Here’s a hot chocolate recipe if you’re not sure about the ratios. If that hot chocolate tastes great, I bet your cocoa powder is fine, even if it’s like five years past its date.


If you’re thinking about using really old cocoa for an important baking project, taste it beforehand.

Marshmallows in hot chocolate
Marshmallows in hot chocolate

How To Store Cocoa Powder

In short, you should store cocoa powder the same way you store other dry goods, like baking powder, baking soda, or wheat flour. That means you need to keep it in a cool and dry area. The pantry is great, but a kitchen cabinet will work just fine too.

Once you open the container, the most important thing to remember is to keep it sealed tightly.

If your cocoa powder comes in plastic packaging that’s not easily resealable, consider pouring it into an airtight container. That will keep the moisture and any contaminants at bay.

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