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With chocolate chips now coming in different shapes, sizes, and even cacao percentages, how do you choose? We tested 14 options to find a winner.
Chocolate chip cookies are America’s favorites, according to The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book (2013) by Carolyn Wyman. Invented in the 1930s, the recipe called for semisweet chocolate. Today, chocolate chip choices abound, and dark chocolate—which includes “semisweet” and “bittersweet” since there’s no legal distinction—has come a long way. Even Nestlé, which in 1940 launched chocolate morsels, now sells four styles of dark chocolate chips (plus quirky varieties including peanut butter, mint, and pumpkin spice). We bought 14 products labeled dark, special dark, bittersweet, or semisweet and sold as chips, oversize “super” chips, morsels, or chunks. In blind tastings, we sampled them plain and in our Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies (May/June 2009).
A few years ago, when dark chocolate bars got fancy with cacao percentages and exotic origin stories, chips were left behind. They were also made more cheaply: To scrimp on costly cocoa butter and retard melting, manufacturers made them with less fat, resulting in firmer and grittier chips. Today, most chocolate chips we sampled were just as creamy and rich as bar chocolate, called themselves “premium” or “artisan,” and touted cacao percentages. Prices rose, too: When we tasted dark chocolate chips in 2009, prices ranged from $0.19 to $0.30 per ounce, but this time around they cost from $0.27 to $0.74 per ounce.
While we wondered if this premium trend was mere hype, the truth was in our results: Tasters recommended all 14 products, with reservations about three. The top two even earned our highest recommendation.
We had surprising preferences. Since the cookie recipe was invented using so-called semisweet chocolate, we’d worried that darker, more bitter chips might seem out of place—but our tasters actually preferred them. “This is the perfect chocolate chip cookie,” a happy taster wrote about the cookie featuring our winning chip.
Why were darker chips more successful? The ratio of sugar to chocolate. A chocolate’s cacao percentage tells you how much of the candy comes from the cacao bean. Cacao beans are fermented, dried, roasted, cracked, and winnowed to produce nibs, which are ground into a paste called chocolate liquor. This contains cocoa butter and cocoa solids. In chocolate chips, once you account for the cacao, the rest is primarily sugar. The United States Food and Drug Administration only mandates that dark, bittersweet, or semisweet chocolate have at least 35 percent cacao; beyond that, manufacturers are free to tweak processes, recipes, and nomenclature. So one company’s “semisweet” offering can actually have a higher cacao percentage than another company’s “bittersweet.” Our lineup had a huge range, from 40 percent to 70 percent cacao. While none tasted bad—they’re chocolate, after all—when compared side by side, the lower-cacao chips seemed too sweet. All but two of these products contained more sugar than any other ingredient. About our favorite “darker” chip, a taster wrote, “the bitterness of the chocolate complements the cookie dough.”
Our top two chocolate chips contain 60 percent and 63 percent cacao; most lower-ranked chips were in the 40 to 50 percent range. The third-place product, which we estimated at 47 percent cacao (its manufacturer withheld details), listed a unique ingredient: Dutch-processed cocoa powder, which is alkali-treated to neutralize acidity. This addition boosted its chocolate flavor.
Fat was also a factor. The total cacao percentage doesn’t reveal how much fat comes from cocoa butter and how much from cocoa solids. Two 60-percent‑cacao chocolates can have very different ratios of fat to solids, as long as they total 60 percent. Our winning 60-percent-cacao chip contained about 40 percent fat, the highest of the lineup. Lower-ranked chips dipped as low as 25 percent fat. In our top chip, that extra creaminess won tasters’ highest praise. Only one other chip contained this much fat—but it suffered from other woes: its proportions. In addition to fat and cacao percentages, we discovered that shape was integral to chips’ success in cookies. When chips were too angular, they didn’t disperse evenly in cookie dough. This resulted in some virtually chip-free cookies, while others contained so many chips that, without enough dough to protect them, the chocolate scorched in the oven and looked unappealing. Traditional dewdrop-shaped chips or chunks with curved edges distributed more evenly.
While fresh, homemade chocolate chip cookies really can’t fail, our winning chips will give yours an advantage. Their high cacao percentage helps guarantee deep, rich chocolaty flavor; their bittersweet profile, with more cacao than sugar, ensures a milder sweetness that balances the sugary cookie; and a generous amount of cocoa butter (plus milk fat for smoother melting) gives them a creamy texture. Our winner, Ghirardelli 60% Premium Baking Chips ($4.39 for 10 ounces), hits all the right notes, and the slightly oversize chips provide just a little more chocolate in every bite. Made with the same ingredients as our favorite dark chocolate bar, also from Ghirardelli, these chips won’t let you down.
We purchased 14 chocolate chip products, including those labeled bittersweet, semisweet, dark, extra dark, and special dark, in the shape of chips, oversize “super” chips, morsels, and chunks. We sampled them in two blind tastings, plain and in our recipe for Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies. Most products are nationally available in supermarkets; a few were ordered online. Prices shown are what we paid, minus any shipping charges. If the manufacturer printed or otherwise disclosed to us the product’s total cacao percentage (the total amount of cocoa butter plus cocoa solids from the cacao bean), we included it. If not, we used package nutritional information to calculate an estimated cacao percentage. Fat and sugar amounts shown are for a standardized 15-gram serving. Test results were averaged, and products appear in order of preference.
Ingredients: As listed on the nutrition label, shown in descending order of volume contained in the product.
(Estimated) Total Cacao: If the manufacturer printed or otherwise disclosed to us the product’s total cacao percentage (the total amount of cocoa butter plus cocoa solids from the cacao bean), we included it; if not, we used package nutritional information to calculate an estimated total cacao percentage. Note: These estimates are an approximation to help us compare products.
Estimated Cocoa Solids: We estimated the percentage of cocoa solids for each chocolate chip product, based on the nutrition label.
Fat: We converted the total fat grams per serving listed on the nutrition labels into an estimated percentage in a standardized 15-gram serving. This number includes both cocoa butter and fat from milk products, if milk fat is indicated in the ingredient list.
Sugar: We calculated grams per serving and percentage of sugar in a standardized 15-gram serving from information listed on the nutrition labels.
Average Chip Weight: Because many products had minor size variations within the package, we weighed six chips from each and divided to determine the average weight of a single chip.
“Creamy, raisiny, intense,” and “cocoa-y” when tasted plain, in the cookies these slightly oversize chips were “very rich,” with “more chocolate flavor!” “The texture is so perfect with the cookie, and the sweetness is spot-on!” Tasters called them “balanced.” “This is the perfect chocolate chip cookie,” said one. “The bitterness of the chocolate complements the cookie dough, and the size of the chips is ideal.” One taster just wrote: “My ideal cookie + chip.”
This product nearly tied with the top-ranked chocolate chips. Its high percentage of cocoa solids made “a more bitter chocolate chip, which I enjoyed,” with a “dark little classic chip shape.” It was “creamy, full-flavored, deeply cocoa-y. Not overly sweet but intensely chocolaty.” “Supersmoky, but deep and rich coffee notes, too. Truly ‘dark’ to my palate. The sophisticate’s chip!” Tasters picked up on “coffee/espresso” notes, finding the chips “roasty, not too sweet,” with a “mellow brightness and a crumbly texture.”
Since these chips had a lower cacao percentage than the top chips, we thought they might not be as intensely chocolaty, but they contained additional cocoa that was Dutch-processed, or treated with alkali, to remove acidity. Tasters called them “rich,” “fruity,” and “not bitter” and loved their “round, definitely chocolaty notes” that tasted “like concentrated hot chocolate.” Their high ratio of fat to cocoa solids meant their texture was “soft,” “smooth,” and “gooey.” Astute tasters nailed these as being “just like a Hershey’s Kiss.” In cookies, some found these “petite” chips “a touch too sweet.” But most agreed that “this tastes and feels like the quintessential chip, smooth and chocolaty with a simple, sweet aftertaste.”
With “solid chocolate flavor,” these “big,” “silky,” “luxurious” chips “toe the line between ‘about right sweet’ and ‘too sweet.’” Tasters appreciated the complex “coconut,” “cherry,” and even “tobacco” notes, as well as some pleasant “bitterness” and a “cocoa butter aftertaste.” In cookies, the chips had “a nicely dense, chewy, almost fudgy quality. And they taste dark! Like good-quality bar chocolate.” “Rich, hearty, bitter, not supersweet but nice in the cookie.” Some tasters felt that these chips held their shape “a little too well” when baked.
These “slabs” or “big disks of chocolate,” which are about the size of a nickel—by far the largest chips in our lineup—were almost “too big” for some tasters, leaving “naked cookie bits” due to “poor coverage.” The chocolate was “milky,” “very creamy and rich,” and offered “complexity,” with “raspberry,” “blueberry,” “espresso,” “coconut,” and even “cinnamon” notes, though the chips were “maybe a hair too sweet.” Tasters enjoyed their “nice, firm,” “dense,” “chewy”—even “meaty”—texture.
“Sweet, simple,” “basic,” “sugary” but “not bitter” and with “classic” chocolate flavor, these chips delivered “great flavor with a sweet first bite.” Tasters enjoyed their complexities, including “dried cherry,” “orange peel,” “warm spice,” and “cinnamon” notes. They contained the lowest fat level in the lineup but had added anhydrous dextrose, a glucose compound that helps make chocolate’s texture smoother. However, we still found them slightly “hard” and “grainy.”
“Rich, fruity, [and] complex” with “tobacco notes,” these chips came across as “deep, dark,” “fancy chocolate!” They were “creamy,” and “melt in your mouth,” with “dark bitter notes at the end” and a “lingering finish,” although a few tasters picked up “artificial” “floral” flavors. Baked in cookies, the “big, abundant chips” kept their “smooth and creamy texture.”
With the lowest cacao percentage in the lineup and an ingredient list that starts with sugar rather than chocolate, these petite chips tasted “mild,” “almost like milk chocolate” and, to several tasters, a little “too sweet.” However, they held their shape well in cookies. Tasters enjoyed notes of “coconut,” “caramel,” “berries or wine,” “raisin,” and even some “smokiness.”
“Sweet with some roasty notes” and with a “caramelly” quality, these chips were “firmer” and “less creamy” than others in the lineup. A few tasters complained that the chocolate flavor lacked “depth.” In cookies, the chips kept their shape and seemed “well balanced” in flavor and texture.” One taster wrote, “What I’d expect in a chocolate chip! Perfectly sweet, good texture.”
Tasted plain, these “chunky” “little logs of chocolate” provided “lots of chocolate in each bite” but were “a little cloying and mild”; as one taster noted: “more sugary than deep chocolate flavor.” Some found them slightly “grainy” or “chalky.” Baked into cookies, “these taste luxurious—great bite and creamy texture as they melt in your mouth,” but a few tasters complained about their size: “Larger chunks means lots of nonchocolate bites.”
“So cute and tiny!” one taster wrote, adding that the flavor of these chips “seems about right: slightly sweet, slightly cocoa-y,” “nutty,” and “roasted”-tasting with “red wine” flavors, as well as “sweet, mild,” and “milky on the finish.” This sweet impression was unsurprising, since the ingredient list starts with sugar: In cookies these chips came across as “a bit too sweet” and “not super chocolaty,” but their texture was “creamy” and “soft” and they “held their shape.”
The original Toll House chocolate chips fared less well with our tasters than we expected; they were recommended only with reservations. Tasters enjoyed “floral,” “fruity” notes but disliked the “slightly gritty texture” when they ate the chips plain. They also wrote that the “sweetness overpowers the chocolate” while acknowledging the chips’ “uncomplex,” “classic chocolate flavor” and “nice, smooth, creamy texture” when baked in cookies. As one astute taster wrote: “This, in my mind, tastes like the classic Toll House chip.”
These “brick-shaped” chunks had “deep, cocoa-y flavor” and were “fruity, almost like having a cherry cordial” with an “espresso/coffee aftertaste.” They were also “dark and rich” and “a little bitter, in a good way,” although a few tasters found them too sweet. Baked into cookies, the chips “didn’t disperse evenly,” leaving large chip-free swaths. Their shape made tasters perceive them as “BIG for this application,” with “lots of spread,” and tasters (accurately) said they made the cookie look “like a giraffe.”
These chips tasted great, but their rectangular shape held them back. Tasters deemed them “fruity, dark,” “intense,” and “very complex,” with “cherry” and “brandy” notes and a “buttery,” “creamy, yielding texture.” With the highest cacao percentage in the lineup, these were the “darkest” chocolate chips we tasted. One taster raved: “Tastes expensive.” But others were cautious, calling these chips “Too dark for me” and “quite bitter.” “I like this chocolate, but it doesn’t fit the chocolate chip profile.” In cookies, they were “visibly very different: Chocolate is in huge splotches and tastes burnt around the edges and bottom because the chocolate spread and there’s no dough to protect it.” It baked up grainy and broken rather than smooth, and the chunks were deemed “too big for cookies,” with either too many or too few per cookie. “I thought the flavor was good,” wrote one taster, but, “if I made this cookie and it looked like this, I’d think I messed up.”