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In Too Afraid to Ask, we’re answering all the food-related questions you’d rather not have loitering in the search history of your corporate laptop. Today: Is it okay to eat bloomed chocolate? Let's find out.

My favorite way to reward myself for a day well done (or at least, done)? Sit on the couch, watch trash TV, and feast on milk chocolate. Imagine my dismay when, the other night, I tore into a fresh bar of cornflake-laced Ritter Sport only to find it looking like it’d weathered a blizzard. The entire surface was dusted in powdery crystals that, up close, resembled tiny snowflakes. Instead of the creamy-crunchy duo I was expecting, the chocolate was dry and grainy. My night was ruined—but by what?

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According to the six experts I spoke to, the chocolate had bloomed. This strange phenomenon has been the bane of chocolatiers since we started making sweetened blocks in the mid-1800s, when British confectionaire Joseph Fry discovered he could solidify chocolate by adding melted cacao butter to Dutch cocoa. In fact, bloom is still “the most common defect in finished chocolate pieces,” says Michael Laiskonis, a pastry chef at the Institute of Culinary Education. Here’s what you need to know before your next trip to the candy aisle.

What is chocolate bloom?

Chocolate bloom comes in two varieties: fat or sugar. Fat bloom looks a little bit like “the surface of the moon,” says Nik Sharma, a molecular biologist turned cookbook author. The chocolate might appear chalky, with lighter brown and gray streaks, says Christopher Elbow, owner of the eponymous chocolate shop in Kansas City. Meanwhile, sugar bloom “is usually characterized by having spotty white dots or even a dusty appearance,” says Susanna Yoon, founder of the New York City chocolate shop Stick With Me Sweets.

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Though telling them apart isn’t always so easy. Fat and sugar bloom can occur simultaneously, says Laiskonis. “Sometimes, the visual effects are slight and the chocolate simply loses its glossy shine.” Despite some similarities in appearance, fat and sugar bloom are caused by different factors.

What causes chocolate bloom?

Fat bloom typically occurs during the making or storing of chocolate. When properly tempered—a heating and cooling process that stabilizes and solidifies the cocoa, cocoa butter, and sugar—chocolate is “shiny and snappy and melts just below body temperature,” says flavor scientist Arielle Johnson, PhD. But if you let a piece of chocolate heat up, the fat crystals will melt and “re-crystallize into an unstable form,” says Laiskonis. This is what creates the appearance of “fat streaks on the surface of the chocolate,” adds Yoon.

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Sarah Flanders, co-owner of Salt Rock Chocolate Co. on Martha’s Vineyard, sometimes runs into fat bloom while tempering chocolate to make her dipped apricots, Grape-Nuts bars, and cashew clusters. “If the melted chocolate is too hot when we work it, the cocoa butter will separate, rise to the surface, and solidify, leaving white fat residue,” she says. “This can also happen if the chocolate doesn’t set quickly enough.”

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Various other mishaps can cause fat bloom in chocolate, says Laiskonis, such as oils migrating outwards from the centers of chocolate-covered nuts. And though fat bloom can form in all types of chocolate, “dark chocolate is most susceptible,” says Laiskonis. “It is generally believed that the small amount of milk fat found in milk and white chocolates can actually help inhibit its formation to some degree.”

Sugar bloom, on the other hand, happens when chocolate comes in contact with moisture. Sugar is hygroscopic, says Sharma, which means it “draws in moisture.” If the air is particularly humid, the sugar will suck up the liquid, dissolve, and then reform in larger crystals which get redeposited on the surface of the chocolate. Direct contact with water or rapid environmental changes, such as moving product from cold to warm temperatures, can cause the bar to condensate, which also results in sugar bloom, says Laiskonis.

Can you eat chocolate that’s bloomed?

Chocolate bloom might look unappetizing, but it’s completely safe to eat. That doesn’t mean you’ll want to eat it, though, as flavor and texture can both be compromised. “Bloom usually strips the chocolate of some of its most pleasing qualities,” says Laiskonis. Chocolate with fat bloom might taste overly like cocoa butter, says Elbow. Texturally, it’s somewhat “waxy or crumbly compared to properly tempered and stored chocolate,” adds Johnson. Chocolate with sugar bloom will probably have a “grainy” mouthfeel, says Laiskonis.

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Is chocolate bloom preventable?

It’s not always possible to avoid chocolate bloom, but storing it properly certainly helps. To protect your bars from both types of bloom, make sure they’re well wrapped and keep them in a cool, dry place, says Johnson. That excludes the fridge, “which is too humid.” If you live somewhere so hot that the fridge is your only option, Elbow suggests covering chocolate tightly with plastic wrap and popping your bars in a zip-lock bag to prevent moisture sneaking in. To cope with super humid environments, Sharma would put chocolate in airtight containers with silica gel bead packets, which suck up moisture.

Too late. What can I do with my bloomed chocolate?

Chocolate bloom does not spell the end of your bar. “The chocolate will still be perfectly fine to melt, bake, or cook with,” says Elbow. Sharma suggests melting bloomed chocolate to make bark, or chopping it up and using it in baked goods like cookies. When sugar bloom is the problem, Laiskonis uses it to make mousse or ganache, “where the larger sugar crystals will be dissolved,” he says. According to Elbow: “You can also still just eat it!”

Make (bloomed) chocolate chip cookies:

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