Let's say it's Valentine's Day Eve. You have been so distracted that, up until the very last minute, you didn't realize the date. You are in big trouble. Let's say your only shopping option is your local drug store. It's late and you are beginning to panic. The Valentine's Day section is wiped out of everything except those heart-shaped boxes of assorted chocolates.
There are two options: Russell Stover or Whittman's Assortment. On the surface, the baseline boxes (sans-frills and fancy packaging) look identical. They're both $5 and contain roughly the same amount of chocolate. So, which do you choose? We opened both boxes, cut into the chocolates inside, and carefully tasted every last one to find out.
First up: Russell Stover. The $5 box weighs in at 7 ounces and contains 13 pieces of chocolate (5 dark, 8 milk). The first thing you'll notice when you open the box (besides the smell of sweet, cocoa-tinged air) is there's no legend. Yep, this is the moment that Forrest Gump warned you about: "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know when you're going to hit the nasty fruit-filled truffle that everyone spits out in horror."*
* This may not be an accurate quote.
The bad news? Depending on your tastes, there are three chocolates in the box (marked with a red asterisk in the photo above) that could potentially qualify as a "land mine": a dark chocolate molasses chew and two milk chocolate fruit cremes (strawberry, and something that tastes vaguely orangey).
But there's good news too: the dark chocolate-covered pieces (dark chocolate coconut, dark chocolate marshmallow, and dark chocolate pecan caramel) are actually pretty tasty, thanks to their coating (which adds some depth of flavor and contrasts with the super-sweet fillings). The milk chocolate pieces (brown sugar creme, vanilla truffle, peanut toffee, and chewy caramel) are also tastier than expected, with inviting textures. Among the 13 pieces, there are a dozen different chocolates. You get two pieces of the peanut toffee, which is a good thing since it's one of the better flavors.
Just like the Russell Stover heart, the $5 Whitman's Assortment box is also packaged without a legend. The 6.25 ounce box contains a dozen pieces (4 dark, 8 milk) and 10 different flavors. Only two (a dark chocolate molasses chew and a milk chocolate vanilla nougat) are potential land-mines. The majority of the chocolates, including milk chocolate caramels (with crushed nuts and without), dark and milk chocolate creams, and even a couldn't-be-more-simple piece of milk chocolate that sits smack-dab in the middle, are totally safe.
That may sound like good news, but because all of the fillings look and taste nearly identical, the end result is a box of chocolates that's both too sweet and lacks any real excitement. Of the 10 different flavors, the only pieces that really made an impact were the dark chocolate coconut and the mini slabs of milk chocolate coated butter toffee (similar to a Skor bar). Luckily, you get two of each.
If you do face the hypothetical Valentine's Day Eve Doomsday Scenario, our pick is the Russell Stover box. Sure, the Whitman's Assortment is the safer bet, but in terms of quality, Russell Stover is the way to go. Besides, if you're buying cheap chocolate, variety (mixed with a splash of danger) wins out over a boring box every time.
About the author: Erin Jackson is a food writer and photographer who is obsessed with discovering the best eats in San Diego. You can find all of her discoveries on her San Diego food blog EJeats.com. On Twitter, she's @ErinJax
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