Is all chocolate the same? Go to any grocery store and you’re going to find at least two, probably more, different brands to choose from. Naively, I thought if I was using 100 percent cocoa chocolate (aka unsweetened chocolate), it wouldn’t matter. I was wrong.
I wanted to find out if there really was a difference in how brownies baked, tasted and looked if the only thing we changed was the brand of chocolate. So I rounded up five different brands of unsweetened chocolate from some stores around our office and got to work.
The brands we chose were:
Hershey’s 100% Unsweetened – 4 oz. package
While many stores in our area carried Hershey’s cocoa powder, it took a few trips to find a store carrying the baking bars.
Scharffen Berger 100% Unsweetened – 9.7 oz. package
The package size of 9.7 oz. (275 grams) seems geared towards Europeans. You’ll need a kitchen scale to measure the right amount since they don’t mark their bars into ounce-sized sections.
Guittard 100% Unsweetened – 6 oz. package
Their chocolate chips are fairly easy to find, but the bars tend to be found at higher-end retailers, at least in the Milwaukee area.
Baker’s 100% Unsweetened – 4 oz. package
Hands down, this is the most widely available brand on the market and is probably the brand your grandmother used in her baking.
Ghirardelli 100% Unsweetened – 4 oz. package
This San Francisco-based chocolate company is my go-to, and it is available at most grocery stores.
Prices varied from a low of $0.58 up to $1.15 per ounce. However, looking at other retailers across the country, I found prices differed pretty dramatically. Just like fruits and vegetables, price depends a lot on where the cocoa is grown and if it was a good year for that location.
I grabbed our Chocolate Fudge Brownie recipe and headed to the Test Kitchen.
To make the test as fair as possible, I made sure the only thing changing was the brand of chocolate: same baking pans, same oven and same mixer. I even went as far as weighing out the flour so I knew each batch would have exactly the same amount. (FYI, 1 cup of all-purpose flour weighs 125 grams.)
The first big difference I noticed when I pulled the brownies out of the oven was, well, nothing. The color, height and crust all looked the same. After cooling slightly, we dug in and saw the interiors were also too close in texture and color to notice any significant difference. However, in the blind tasting, our first panel of Test Kitchen experts really noticed differences in the flavor.
It was close but we soon zeroed in on Guittard as our favorite. All agreed it was rich and intensely chocolaty. I thought we had a clear-cut winner but that quickly changed. On a hunch, I put all the remaining brownies in our cafeteria and asked our editorial staff to taste and rank them, keeping the chocolate brands a secret. Low-and-behold, their top choices were actually opposite of what the Test Kitchen team chose. After a fair amount of sleuthing around, I think I hit upon the answer.
When I talked to everyone on the first tasting panel, I learned they all prefer to eat dark chocolate if given a choice. However, the second tasting panel overwhelmingly loves milk chocolate.
While everyone agreed all of the brownies were delicious, when forced to choose the best tasting one, the milk chocolate lovers gave the highest marks to brownies made with Baker’s chocolate, with Hershey’s not too far behind. The dark chocolate fans went the opposite way and picked Guittard as their No. 1 followed closely by Ghirardelli and Scharffen Berger.
You really can’t go wrong. There wasn’t a single person who said the brownies just didn’t taste good. It all boils down to the subtle differences in flavor you get from the different types of cocoa the chocolate makers use—in other words, to where it is grown in the world. You also don’t have to take my word for it; try it yourself. The worst that can happen is you end up having to eat a bunch of brownies.