Putting chocolate to the test this Valentine's Day

By Amy Davis - Reporter/Consumer Expert

With just days from Valentine's Day, millions of people are planning to splurge on chocolate for their sweetheart.

But with hundreds of choices, how do you know which brand or type to buy?

Local 2 consumer expert Amy Davis put chocolate to the test to show you the difference between the cheap stuff and fine chocolate.

Chocolate, whether it's heart-shapped, in squares or in bars, is a $20 billion industry. From drug stores to shopping malls to boutique sellers, you can spend as little or as much cash on cocoa as you like. But what are you really getting for the extra money?

"When you buy Hershey's chocolate versus fine chocolate, there's a difference in the way that it's processed and made," explained Annie Rupani, chocolatier and owner of Cacao & Cardamom.

Phoenicia's executive chef Fabrice Marin agreed.

"Chocolate is a generic name," Marin explained. "It's like wine. You can go from $5 a bottle to $200 a bottle. It's still called wine."

Both Rupiani and Marin helped us select five brands of dark chocolate from the cheapest, drug store variety that costs 56 cents per ounce to a high-end brand from Madagascar that cost $2.28 cents per ounce.

We took the dark confections to Discovery Green for a blind taste test to find out if Houston cocoa lovers could tell the cheap stuff from the luxury brand.

We discovered more often than not, testers preferred Hershey's, the lowest cost chocolate in our test.

"I think if you like sugar, then you're gonna like chocolate with a lower cacao content," said Rupani.

Cacaco, the fruit that chocolate comes from, is what makes chocolate, well chocolate.

In Europe, where foodies are much more serious about their candy manufacturers, you cannot even call a product chocolate if it contains less than 43 percent cacao, so Rupani and Marin say you should check out the ingredients on the back of any bar.

"See if cocoa, liquor or cacao beans are the first ingredient on the bar," said Rupani. 

They say if chocolate has more than five ingredients listed, it's not as pure.

One of the most expensive chocolates in our test lists just five ingredients and cocoa beans are the first.

We checked out the Hershey's bar and found a total of 12 ingredients. The first is sugar. Others are chemicals and preservatives that give the bar a longer shelf life.

"Chocolate is something simple. Just a few ingredients inside," said Marin. "If you start to have too much, just run."

That said, eat the chocolate you enjoy. And if it just so happens that your palette doesn't care about price, your sweetie will thank you this Valentine's Day.

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