By Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com
On and leading up to Feb. 14, men and women flush with ardor will render florists, fine jewelers, and restaurateurs flush with cash. Valentine’s Day gifts cost the average consumer more than $100 each year, according to the National Retail Federation. High-end chocolates certainly contribute to that outlay. The best inexpensive chocolates may not have wine-like labels that specify geographic origin and vintage as some artisanal varieties do, but they can satisfy for less.
Chocolate comes in three basic varieties: dark, milk, and white. Dark chocolate has enjoyed a spate of positive press in recent years, thanks to research that suggests antioxidants from the cacao bean may, amond other findings, lower blood pressure. The Food and Drug Administration requires dark chocolate to contain a certain percentage of chocolate liquor, which is made from cocoa butter and nonfat cocoa solids (but no alcohol, despite the name). The higher the percentage, the greater the potential health benefits, scientists say. (The National Institutes of Health cautions that, while those benefits are tantalizing, the negative effects of excessive fat, sugar, and calories are beyond doubt.)
Buying dark chocolate could earn you extra brownie points for being concerned with the health of your significant other, but it could also backfire. The ingredients touted by researchers make dark chocolate more bitter than milk chocolate or white chocolate. Milk chocolate is more familiar to Americans and contains milk ingredients (no surprise there) in addition to cocoa solids, cocoa butter, and sugar. White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, milk, and sugar but contains no cocoa solids.
These different types of chocolate can take a few different forms. There are chocolate bars, of course, and the chocolate-dipped candies known as bonbons. Truffles feature creamy ganache encased in a chocolate shell. All can be dressed up with nuts, fruit, or other flavors.
Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable chocolate.
- Lindt Lindor Truffles (starting at $8 for a 5.1 oz. box, or 67 cents a piece) come in dark, milk, and white chocolate varieties. In a blind taste test, our panel found the ganache in all three smooth and delectable. The dark truffles proved sweeter than they expected. (Where to buy)
- Cadbury Royal Dark Chocolate (starting at $2.19 for a 4 oz. bar) wins the admiration even of those who prefer milk chocolate. Tasters describe a pleasing texture and a semi-sweet taste with notes of cinnamon. (Where to buy)
- Dove Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate (starting at 79 cents for a 1.3 oz. bar) isn’t exactly silky smooth, according to our tasters. However, it is a mild dark chocolate with a nice sweetness. (Where to buy)
- The Trader Joe's Box of Chocolates (starting at $4.99 for a 16 oz. box, or 15 cents a piece) is unavailable online, so only those with a Trader Joe’s store nearby can get their hands on this assortment. Our panel singled out the all-chocolate bonbons; others are filled with caramel, toffee, or fruit-flavored cream. A guide inside the box reveals which is which, and the whole thing is wrapped in heart-patterned paper.