Food & Drink

Drug Store Chocolates vs. Fancy Chocolates: Valentine’s Edition

Russell Stover chocolates
Cole Saladino/Thrillist

If you clicked on this story, chances are you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day this year -- or better yet, Galentine's. Or you love chocolate so much you’re willing to overlook the stupid holiday trappings. Either way, let’s talk about those big, red, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate you see this time of year. Do you shell out for something fancy, or do you run through the drug store to grab something (besides a sad, misshapen Reese’s Peanut Butter “heart”) last-minute?

It just so happens that Russell Stover updated the recipes for their chocolates this winter, and we were curious. Drug store candy is usually fine, but nothing to get excited about. We tried them, not expecting much, and we were kind of shocked. They were actually… good? Way better than we expected. Further investigation was called for.

Now I am a serious chocoholic. I prefer dark -- somewhere around 60-70% is my sweet spot, and yes, the packaging design matters very much. I’ve been known to load my luggage with stacks on stacks of (now sadly discontinued) Swiss Brändli chocolate bars in their signature ocher boxes. I always have something chocolate around -- currently there’s a quarter bar of Tony’s Chocolonely 70% calling my name from my desk drawer. And I’m still daydreaming about the Vosges Smoke & Stout Caramel bar I had the other week. What were we talking about again? Oh yes, drug store chocolate, which doesn’t typically do it for me.

Anyway, in the name of science, we decided to compare the new-and-improved Russells against the fancy chocolates from a SoHo chocolatier. This is the kind of shop that looks like a jewel box inside, all tufted sofas, fanciful pastel-colored boxes with tasteful trimmings, robin’s egg blue walls and chandelier lighting. Shopkeepers hand-place your selected bon bons carefully into a decorative box with gloved hands.

Most upscale chocolatiers specialize -- they focus on pralines, for example, or ganache, which was the main feature of our SoHo shop. And you’re not going to find those kinds of chocolates at the drugstore. So it’s not really fair to compare. But our fancy chocolate shop also sells salted chocolate caramels, perfect for a match against the Russell Stover Sea Salt Caramels. 

Results

Executive food editor Nicole Taylor and I preferred the fancy salted caramels to Russells because of their more restrained sweetness and the smoother caramel texture. But we wanted to include more opinions from all kinds of chocolate fans, so we invited about 20 Thrillist staffers to taste.

Almost everyone else preferred the Russells -- specifically in dark chocolate. Thrillist prez Ocean McAdams told us he liked them because they taste familiar, which hits a very particular kind of happiness button. One taster described them as “incredible” and another taster said the chocolates made them “do a chef’s kiss.” OK, then.

There was less love for the milk chocolate caramels, which to me felt like an athletic event to chew down. They’re thick little footballs of dense caramel. My jaw started to ache as I chewed and chewed.

We also dug through a couple of Russells’ assorted boxes, and everyone agreed that their dark truffles with the sprinkles on top are the bomb. (The milk chocolate truffles came in a distant second.) If only Russells would sell boxes of just those dark chocolate truffles, no peanut or coconut fillings allowed. Hint, hint... 

What are you doing with this information?

You’re going to dig into your own box of cheap thrills, my friends. Whatever your relationship status, go buy yourself a box of drug store candy in the cheesy heart-shaped box, preferably one with a satin cover. Pro tip: Buy an assorted box this weekend and take a bite out of every single chocolate without finishing any of them if you don’t want to. True decadence. Who loves you? You loves you, that’s who.

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Adriana Velez is a senior food editor at Thrillist.