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Are Expensive Chocolate Chips Worth the Price Tag?

September 16, 2015

We did a taste test to find out, and the answer might surprise you...

World Peace Cookies

Though they are rarely included in pantry essentials lists, I believe that one should have chocolate chips on hand at all times. What if your friend goes through a break-up and needs the soothing salve of a giant, melty cookie? What if you realize that those biscotti would look one thousand times better dipped in chocolate? What if you are exhausted and wrung out and need something to eat by the handful at 1 A.M.? One must be prepared.

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And while chocolate chips are definitely not in the "major splurge" category, they can make a dent in your budget if you go through them as quickly as some people (cough, me). So when I find myself standing in front of the chocolate chip options in the grocery store, I am torn: To spend, or not to spend? Store brand chips, or fancy pants chips?

Typically, I'll make my decision based on whether or not I have overspent on coffee for the day. But today, we're putting chocolate chips to the test: Is it worth it to splurge on fancier brands, or will the budget brand do just as well? The answer might surprise you...

For the sake of simplicity, I only tested two brands of chocolate chips: a budget store brand (priced $1.47), and a fancy name brand (priced $3.49).  In order to cover the scope of chocolate chip uses, I asked testers to select which chocolate chip they preferred as-is and which they preferred when baked into a cookie (I used this recipe from Phyllis Grant).

For my venue, I selected my friend's E.P. release—and it was all too easy to find testers to participate in the experiment. They took their task seriously. Most sniffed the chocolate chips before eating, like they were about to drink a fine wine. They chewed thoughtfully before giving their opinions. Here are the results: 

Trail Mix

1. The Chocolate Chip Test

For scientific accuracy, I put chocolate chips in identical plastic containers labeled "A" and "B," and then asked ten testers which one they preferred. It wasn't even close: nine liked the pricier chocolate chips, while only one preferred the store brand.

Those that liked the fancier chips noted that they had "a nicer texture" and a "more balanced flavor." The storebrand chips were criticized for being "too waxy" and "overly sweet." Onto the next test.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2. The Cookie Test

When I asked for volunteers to test the two different type of cookies, I explained that there was one difference between them—but I didn't divulge what that difference was. There were many guesses, some spectacularly off: "Does one have cinnamon?" "This one has more salt. Definitely salt." 

The testers may not have pinned down what was different about the two cookies, but they definitely pinned down which cookie they liked better: the one made with store brand chocolate chips. Out of ten testers, only one preferred the cookie made with the fancier chocolate. Those who liked the cookies made with store brand chips said that they were "sweeter," "had a better texture," and were "more like the cookies I had growing up."

We may never know the complex science behind why the testers preferred the cheaper chips in their cookies, but I can hazard an educated guess: the critiques of the storebrand chocolate chips in the previous category—their waxy texture and sweetness—were the very points that made them work so well in a chocolate chip cookie. They had less integrity on their own, but blended well into the cookie; in short, they are more of a team player.

I did make one definite conclusion from the experiment: The next time I'm making chocolate chip cookies, I'm going with the budget brand. 

Do you have a diehard preference for chocolate chip brands? Or are you a fan of chocolate shavings, chunks, or discs in your cookies? Tell us in the comments!

15 Comments

Kathleen August 7, 2016
I, through a lack of proper stocking of my pantry and an intense desire to have chocolate chip cookies, have found that the favourite of myself and my friends and family who eat the cookies I couldn't scarf down right away, like a combination of chocolate. My habit of never buying enough chocolate chips has lent to my now steadfast rule of combining different quality/sweetnesses of chocolate together in one batch of cookies. Mixing together a left over dark bar of chocolate (chopped into chunks) with what I haven't consumed of the fancy chocolate chips (Callebaut) and that bag I had somewhere in the back of my cupboard (store brand) really mix delightfully well in a cookie dough to make a bit more complex and satisfying cookie.<br />It's not for everyones tastes I'm sure but the popularity of my cookies with friends and family increased when I did a poor job stocking my pantry.
 
Chef D. November 27, 2015
forget chocolate chips, add toffee chunks instead :P
 
Karen S. September 26, 2015
The best chocolate chips are Guittard. I have tried others and they are not as good. They are the key for great chocolate chip cookies.
 
Jessica September 25, 2015
Two kinds of chips and ten tasters is hardly a good analysis! Also, I think the comment from one of the people who preferred the cheaper chips--"more like the cookies I had growing up"--shows that some people were judging not which was a better cookie, but which one tasted like the ones they grew up on, which were, duh, probably made with cheap chips. You might just as well compare Velveeta and a good cheddar . . .. and yes, of course, I use Guittard chips--and they helped me win 11 ribbons at the State Fair last month!
 
Andy H. September 22, 2015
Some of the store brands have allergy lists on them (Peanuts) whereas the major brands do not. Specifically Chips Ahoy. My store brand, Giant, has an allergy warning on them.
 
Karin September 20, 2015
guittard is the best ever!!!! I love mixing their milk and semi sweet!
 
MRubenzahl September 19, 2015
Tsk. I love food52 but this article is lazy. It aims to test store vs pricey brands but, "For the sake of simplicity, I only tested two brands of chocolate chips..."<br /><br />Two? Really?!?!?! <br /><br />For what it's worth, Ghiradelli 60% cacao is my brand; Guittard is my other favorite.
 
Esther S. September 19, 2015
I agree! Guittard is the only brand I use.
 
Smaug September 17, 2015
Guittard all the way. They make an extra dark version too, not as easily found, that is particularly good. No surprise on the cookie test; in this type of test, sweeter, fattier, often saltier- which play on some of our ancestral tendencies that evolution has missed, will generally win out. That's why professional cooking, which relies almost entirely on first impressions, leans on these things so heavily. Similarly, in side to side tests, louder music, brighter colors etc. will generally prevail in the absence of other differences.
 
PW September 16, 2015
Can we be told the main ingredient differences, if any, in these two types of chips as well? I'm mainly interested in whether the cheaper chips tested were vegetable oil chips or cocoa butter.
 
Sandra R. September 16, 2015
I am in the high use category. And I order about ten bags of the mini-chips bittersweet from King Arthur's Flour every February (cold is essential for good shipping conditions). And I usually get some full size bittersweet. And some full size extra bittersweet. The mini-chips distribute more evenly, and allow better slicing for refrigerator cookies or frozen dough.
 
Kaja1105 September 16, 2015
I like Guittard too, and sometimes I can find them on sale for around $3.00 a bag. Trader Joe's sells a decent store brand chip that doesn't have any bad ingredients as far as I can recall.
 
ChefJune September 16, 2015
That's a great test, AntoniaJames. I think you should do that. :)<br />I want to make those chocolate cookies...
 
AntoniaJames September 16, 2015
I would love to see a taste test with dipped cookies (biscotti, shortbread) using the two kinds of chips. <br /><br />(Hmmm. Maybe I should put that on my to-do list. Would be a fun way to end a casual dinner party, don't you think?) <br /><br />Great article, Catherine. Cheers. <br />;o)
 
ChefJune September 16, 2015
Interesting test. My problem with "store brand" and even some name brand chocolate chips is that they contain a whole lot of wax. I really prefer to cut chip-sized chunks of a good semi- or bittersweet chocolate. That definitely eliminates the wax and gives an incredible toothsomeness. However, since Guittard chips are now quite widely available, I've pretty much stopped chopping chocolate for chips. However, their chips are considerably more than $3.49 a bag. The Akoma chips currently on my shelf are %6.99 for 16 ounces. But a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do! :)