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.
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.