It started with Serious Eats editor Erin Zimmer and general manager Alaina Browne innocently browsing through the latest See's catalog. See's sells chocolate chips? Really? That's when they were struck with a chocolate chip taste-test vision: 10 brands, 12 tasters, 120 cookies.
I had often wondered how the many brands of chocolate chips would stack up against one another. Even though I usually bake with bittersweet chocolate, we tested the semisweet chips, arguably the classic choice for chocolate chip cookies. The chips ranged from widely available brands like Toll House and Hershey's to the more hard-to-come-by and pricey brands like Scharffen Berger and Barry Callebaut, which arrived at my home in space-age packing material, nestled among ice packs. And while they all carried the semi-sweet label, the actual cocoa content varied (Scharffen Berger listed 62% cocoa and Callebaut listed 49.9%, for example).
In a blind tasting, 12 tasters (a panel of Serious Eats staffers, contributors, and the first-ever "citizen taster" from the SE community) smelled, examined, and ate the chocolate chips plain and in freshly baked cookies. Truly arduous, serious work.
As we nibbled our way through the cookies, one finding became very clear. We like big chips. Most of the chips we tested had the classic chip size and shape: a pea-sized kiss. The one brand of mini-chips that we tested (Guittard) did not go over well, despite their tastiness when eaten on their own. As one taster explained, "These cookies are speckled. I can't taste speckles." But the big chips (Scharffen Berger and See's) were big hits. The tasters universally liked biting into substantial pockets of molten chocolate.
In fact, we found a lot to like among these ten brands and our favorites were largely determined by our personal chocolate preferences.
The Big Winners
Best Supermarket Brand: Trader Joe's. Not too sweet, with a touch of toffee flavor and just a hint of bitterness, we found Trader Joe's to be a great alternative to the more expensive Callebaut.
Best Fancypants Brand: Scharffen Berger Generous chunks, almost bittersweet chocolate taste, and ultra smoothness.
Find out the rest of the results below.
When it comes to chocolate, are there really any losers?
In the final analysis, no chip was truly awful, unless you ask certain tasters about Nestle Toll House. This was the most polarizing chip. Most gave it the lowest scores possible, while a few outliers liked it quite a bit. It ended up at the bottom of the heap. Don't write it off completely though—you may find you love it.
All The Chocolate Chips
Trader Joe’s: The Best Supermarket Chip
Described as an “all-American classic standard,” you might think of it as an affordable and easier-to-find alternative to Callebaut. It’s a little grainy when eaten on its own, but smoothes out when melted in the cookie. The nice thing about this chip is that it wasn’t too sweet, like many other brands in this price point. It had just a hint of bitterness that was balanced out with touches of toffee flavor.
Price: $2.29 for a 12-ounce bag.
Scharffen Berger: The Best Fancypants Chip
This was the clear favorite among most tasters. Its “ultra-smooth” texture, “brick-shaped chunks,” and complex flavor were much loved. Its fruity bitterness, however, bordered on bittersweet and tasted “very mature,” so maybe not the best brand to use for a bunch of cookie-loving kids. It also comes with a very grown-up price tag.
Price: $6.50 for a 6-ounce bag.
Barry Callebaut: Also Pricey, But Worth It
Sweeter and creamier than Scharffen Berger, this was considered a “homey” classic chip. It was also very smooth and had a “buttery richness that lingered” in the mouth. If Scharffen Berger is for grown-ups, then Callebaut is for the kid in us.
Price: $6.95 for a 1-pound bag.
Ghirardelli: If You Don’t Live Near a Trader Joe’s
This solid supermarket brand is “smooth,” “bright,” and “fruity.” Some found it a little too sweet—one taster said it would be “better for a candy.” A few tasters detected “weird” (“olive...bacon”) or “chemical” flavors.
Price: $4.59 for a 12-ounce bag.
See’s: If You Like Big Chips
Everyone loved the look and feel of these “frisbees” from the West Coast-based chocolate company. They were “silky when melted” and had a “mild cocoa flavor.” Coming out of the bag, a lot of chips were stuck to one another. I pried them apart before mixing them into the cookie dough, an annoying extra step. I suppose you could leave them stuck together and have even bigger bites of chocolate in the cookie. These chips had a waxy texture when eaten on their own.
Price: $5.35 for a 1-pound bag.
Sunspire: The Organic Brand
Tasters generally thought this chip tasted OK in the cookie, but “needed more chocolate flavor." When the chip was eaten by itself, a couple tasters commented on an “odd, nutty” aftertaste and a “strange oiliness.”
Price: $5.69 for a 9-ounce bag.
Guittard Mini-Chips: If You Like Chocolate Confetti
“Cute and too tiny,” “adorable, but can’t taste anything,” and “dude, I can’t taste speckles” basically sum it up. When a handful of the chips were eaten on their own, they were “milky,” “caramel-y,” and very smooth. Rather than distributing them evenly throughout the cookie, maybe these chips would be better swirled into the dough for a marbled effect?
Price: $6.95 for a 1-pound bag.
Hershey’s: Very Sweet and Uncomplicated
“Much sweeter” than most others, these chips were described as tasting “like an Easter bunny” and smelling “like the hard chocolate shell of an ice cream bar.” “Extra melt-y” in the cookie, they “stick to the teeth” when eaten on their own.
Price: $3.59 for a 12-ounce bag.
Whole Foods: Chalky, Bland, but the Cheapest
Another one of the sweeter chips we tasted, this one was considered “mild,” “bland,” and having “not much flavor.” The most notable thing about this chip was its “chalky,” “grainy” texture when eaten on its own. It was the least expensive of the bunch, but for an extra 30 cents, you’d get a much better chip at Trader Joe’s.
Price: $1.99 for a 12-ounce bag.
Nestle Toll House: Food Scientists Hard at Work
Tasters noted “a lot going on here.” This was a very sweet chip with spicy notes that clearly put off most tasters. Some found the hints of “cinnamon,” “nutmeg,” and “pepper,” to be “artificial” and “gross.” One taster said the strong “aroma belies the [bland] flavor” and another couldn’t get past the “glowing brown” color. On the upside, the chip size was slightly larger than average. Two tasters liked this chip, one going as far as claiming it as a “favorite,” citing its “interesting peppery” flavor.
Price: $3.89 for a 12-ounce bag.