3 Rules for Buying Great Chocolate

February 17, 2011

Sea Salt Chocolates

I secretly believe that Valentine’s Day brings more broken hearts than throbbing ones. It seems that for every gushing lover I hear from who is delighted with the love and gifts bestowed on him or her each Valentine’s Day, I hear laughter, curses or blubbering sobs from half a dozen or more who were either ignored by a lover, didn’t have a lover, or were handed a last-minute red thing like a pair of panties three sizes too small or a red-lettered coffee mug saying something romantically profound like “I Like it Hot.”

So if you weren’t one of the 35 million people to receive a heart-shaped box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day – or got something approximating it but tasting more like sugary wax than chocolate – don’t despair. With a U.S. population of 310 million, it’s safe to say you’re not alone. And there’s no better time than now to get yourself exactly the chocolate you desire now that the prices on those heart-shaped boxes have been slashed in half. But with more shapes, sizes, prices, flavors and cocoa contents to choose from than Eskimos have words for snow, how does one choose the best chocolate – the chocolate that will bring you more loving memories than that last date on match dot com?

1. A big name does not mean best quality
...But it just might bring happiness. The high-end prices of Godiva Chocolates, owned by Campbell’s soup, owe as much to their marketing campaign as “the best chocolates in the world” as they do their packaging. Similarly, See’s chocolates have a noble history of starting as a small family business with Grandma See’s picture on every box, growing to a huge multi-national enterprise run by Warren Buffet. Toblerone chocolates are made by Kraft, Dagoba organic chocolates by Hershey's, and Ghiradelli passed hands from a macaroni company to Quaker Oats before finally falling into the hands of chocolate makers Lindt and Sprungli. What all these acquisitions mean to the chocolate buyer is that you are paying for mass production, long shelf life and high profit margins – which translate to less cocoa and more sugar, more additives and lower quality cocoa beans. But if the golden boxes of Godiva bring you memories of love, or you have just stood outside their luscious storefront windows one too many times and always told yourself one day you’d walk through the door and grab a golden box all for yourself, go for it. You’ll find far more joy in a gift of chocolate that means something to you than had you sprung for a high-priced box of artisanal chocolates flavored with balsamic vinegar and chipotle chili peppers and still wanted that golden box of Godiva (or Ghiradelli or what have you).

2. You pay more for better quality
If you consider eating as much science as art, are thrilled with the experience of new food and wants quality over brand names, do spring for artisanal chocolates. Whether locally made from a boutique chocolatier who hand enrobes each piece, or ordered on-line from one of the rising stars of the chocolate arts (think Norman Love or Christopher Elbow, two unforgettable names straight out of comic books who have done for chocolate what Tiffany did for lamp shades), a gift to yourself of artisan chocolates just might bring you more pleasure than a dose of Viagra.

3. It's not who's selling the chocolate that counts, it's who's eating it
Food is loved for the memories and emotions it evokes. By giving yourself – or anyone you care about – chocolates, you are creating – and recalling – both. So whether or not Valentine’s Day was good to you or you to it, it’s not too late to splurge on the very best chocolates you can find and celebrate the fact that this year, you can have them all to yourself!



Culinary Fool's picture

Just because a smaller chocolate company is owned by a larger company doesn't necessarily mean their production methods and philosophies have changed, although I'm sure it does happen sometimes and maybe even most times. I can't speak to all the examples you mentioned but I'm pretty sure Dagoba has remained true to its origins.

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Honest Chocolates's picture

Just FYI, I believe Campbell's sold Godiva to a Turkish luxury goods conglomorate about 3 years ago so that they could focus on their comfort food brands. Which still supports your point.

ChocolateCentral's picture

Thanks for letting people know the reality of Valentine's Day - that more tears are shed than kisses. This wasn't one of those tearful Valentine's Day, but I've had my share in the past. I also found the ownership facts interesting about the well-known and expensive chocolate shops like Godiva. I had no idea that Godiva is owned by Campbells or See's Chocolates by Warren Buffet. Very interesting.

Janice Harper's picture

Very good point, and I do agree. Though consumers often equate boutique chocolate with both locally-made and better-quality chocolate. The important thing is to enjoy whatever chocolate you eat, and do your best to find the chocolates that bring you the most pleasure. In later postings I'll discuss the social and environmental impacts of large-scale cacoa-bean production and chocolate marketing, as well as family-owned chocolate companies that have been producing hand-crafted chocolates for decades.

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