Best Cheap Chocolate
If you're looking for the perfect gift for a loved one or even a treat for yourself, chocolate almost always hits the spot. Aside from the swoon factor, any number of benefits have been ascribed to the consumption of chocolate -- brain boosting, mood elevating, cholesterol lowering, aphrodisiac, to name a few. But surely frugal chocoholics want to know: Is chocolate by any other name just the same? That is, does cheap chocolate deliver the satisfying lusciousness that chocolate lovers crave? Our research found that, indeed, you can have an intense chocolate experience without spending a chocolate-covered mint.
Cheap Chocolates Buying Guide
In setting out on our quest to find the best cheap chocolate, we focused on dark and milk chocolate bars with a price threshold of $4 for 3.5 ounces and boxed bonbons and truffles with a per piece price cap of less than 75 cents. Our picks for the top of our inexpensive chocolates basket are Cadbury Royal Dark Chocolate bar (starting at $2.19/4 oz.) and Lindt Lindor Truffles Gift Box (starting at $8/5.1 oz.; 67 cents a piece).
To find the best cheap chocolates, we supplemented our usual reading of expert and consumer reviews, blogs, and news stories with blind tastings among friends and a small poll of random consumers. All the brands we tested and researched are mentioned in this buying guide.
Cheap chocolate is a mass-market product -- some being very good and some, not so much. The best low price chocolate has a pleasant chocolate smell and a glossy, unblemished appearance. The mouth feel is velvety, not gritty or waxy, and the taste is richly chocolate without any chemical undertones. You know there's sugar in there, but it doesn't dominate, and a bit of snap when you bite into inexpensive chocolate indicates it's been well tempered. Our test panel reported that some low priced chocolate doesn't have lots of taste when first bit, but a chocolate-y fullness develops as it melts in your mouth. The panelists' favorite chocolates presented with a smooth mouth feel and flavor that lingered.
The chocolate-making process is long and involved, and all the steps along the way affect the quality of the end product. Chocolate makers adhere to their own recipes, and the unique combination of beans; the proportion of cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar; and the length of time the chocolate is conched (kneaded through heavy rollers) and then tempered (heated, cooled, and reheated) all account for the distinction between cheap chocolate and expensive and the varied taste sensations consumers experience. The big names in the business today include Hershey's, Mars, Nestle, Cadbury, and Lindt at the affordable end and Callebaut, Guittard, and Valrhona at higher price points.
As with many other simple indulgences these days, a mushrooming army of artisanal, small batch makers and purveyors of fine, upscale chocolates has descended on the foodie world. There are chocolatiers who buy unfinished chocolate and conjure all manner of fancy filled candies and "bean to bar" chocolate makers who source cacao beans from far off equatorial regions and create their own chocolate delights. Borrowing from a practice common among wine and coffee processors, some chocolate artisans are now applying geographic and vintage labels to the finished product. Never mind -- the best cheap chocolates still deliver the fix you need.
Chocolate for drinking has been around since the time of the Aztecs but chewable chocolate arrived on the scene much later. Chocolate-dipped candies, also known as bonbons (the word means "good good"), made their debut at the French royal court during the 18th century. Chocolate bars appeared in the mid 19th century, when two Englishmen, Joseph Fry and John Cadbury, separately found ways to mix together cocoa and sugar to forge an edible slab. Somewhat later, Henry Nestle produced the first milk chocolate and Rodolphe Lindt perfected a way to produce a bar that would hold its shape and melt in the mouth. Chocolate bars arrived in the U.S. when Milton Hershey introduced the Hershey's bar in 1900.
The eating chocolate we buy today is classified as dark, milk, or white. By law, the primary ingredients in dark chocolate must be cocoa solids and cocoa butter. Milk chocolate contains some form of milk, either powdered or evaporated. White chocolate isn't really chocolate -- it's lacking in cocoa solids but does contain cocoa butter, although some really cheap white chocolate substitutes at least some vegetable fat for the cocoa butter. Chocolate keeps for several months if stored in a cool, dry place (definitely not the refrigerator), which should prevent blooming, or turning grey. But really, can you wait that long to chomp it down?