Chocolate is one of life’s great pleasures, and enthusiasm for it stretches back to ancient times: Considered the food of the gods by ancient Mayans, back then chocolate was consumed as a drink. Cacao beans were ground and mixed with spices and water to create a frothy drink that bears little resemblance to the chocolate we know and love today. Nowadays, the best chocolate more often takes the form of gourmet chocolates that can be purchased in specialty chocolate shops, natural grocers, or online.
If you’re a true chocolate lover, regular old grocery store chocolate bars simply won’t do. Thankfully, a whole new breed of chocolate makers have popped up around the world, making high-quality chocolate truffles and chocolate confections in unique flavors like sea salt and strawberry balsamic. Here we’ll take a look at the best chocolate you can purchase right now, whether you have a taste for milk chocolate, dark chocolate, white chocolate or more exotic flavors. No matter what you decide to sample from these chocolatiers, we guarantee you’ll have an outstanding chocolate experience.
The Best Gourmet Chocolates to Buy Right Now
Best for Unique Flavors: Vosges Haut Chocolat Dark Chocolate Truffle Collection
Founded in Chicago in 1998, Vosges Haut Chocolat is a pioneer in unusually flavored chocolate bars and truffles. Founder Katrina Markoff was concocting unusual chocolate flavors long before it was trendy. Some of Vosges’s best chocolate flavors include the Black Pearl dark chocolate truffle made with wasabi, ginger and matcha, and a bar of 45% dark milk chocolate blended with aged Vermont cheddar cheese and apples. If you’re new to the brand, we recommend the Dark Chocolate Truffle Collection, a 16-piece assortment that includes the aforementioned Black Pearl flavor as well as other exotic ingredients such as fennel pollen, horseradish, and Hungarian paprika. Vosges is definitely well-suited for the dark chocolate lover with an adventurous palate, and you can find their products nationwide at fine grocery stores like Whole Foods.
Best for a Fancy Box of Chocolates: La Maison du Chocolat Coffret Maison
For those who prefer more traditional flavors, look to La Maison du Chocolat for some of the best gourmet chocolates you’ll ever taste. This French purveyor of gourmet chocolates makes all its recipes in Nanterre, France under the supervision of master chocolatier and pastry chef Nicolas Cloiseau. Its rich, decadent chocolates come in gorgeous leather-like gift boxes that make them perfect for gifting. We recommend checking out the Coffret Maison, a 29-piece box of chocolates that includes 29 assorted pieces of ganaches, pralinés and almond paste, in milk chocolate and dark chocolate. The box is so pretty, you won’t want to throw it away.
Best for Health Nuts: K+M Extra-Virgin Chocolate Dark Milk Ecuador Bar
If you’re the type of person who likes to indulge in a healthy way, you won’t want to miss K+M Extra-Virgin Chocolate, a collaboration between famed chef Thomas Keller of the French Laundry and Tuscan olive oil producer Armando Manni. The team spent five years figuring out how to craft the world’s best chocolate while retaining the health benefits of olive oil and cocoa beans, both excellent sources of antioxidants. Our favorite is the Dark Milk Ecuador chocolate bar, an incredibly smooth version of the milk dark chocolate that’s grown in popularity in recent years with notes of mango and molasses.
Best for Budget Buy: Hu Cashew Butter Dark Chocolate Bar
For chocolate lovers who care about their sugar intake and overall health but also don’t want to spend a lot, look no further than Hu. This game-changing brand makes its chocolate bars with organic cacao and no palm oil, refined sugar, dairy, sugar alcohols, lecithin, or emulsifiers — meaning it’s extremely pure with real, whole ingredients. That being said, it also doesn’t taste “healthy.” Peanut butter and chocolate is a time-honored pairing, and Hu has made that flavor combo their own by subbing in healthier cashew butter for a rich, delicious chocolate bar that is totally guilt-free. Best of all, the Hu Cashew Butter + Vanilla Bean Dark Chocolate Bar is only $7.25 per bar. Order online or find it at retailers like Whole Foods or Sprouts.
Best for Special Dietary Concerns: Michel Cluizel Sea Salt Cocoa Nibs Chocolate Bar
Legendary New York City chocolate shop Michel Cluizel is one-stop shopping for the true chocolate aficionado. This chocolatier and pastry chef is known around the world for his gourmet chocolate, from adorable chocolate mushrooms filled with almond nougatine to what may be the best dark chocolate brownies you’ll ever taste. But where Cluizel really shines is with chocolate lovers who have dietary restrictions. (Those brownies also happen to be gluten- and dairy-free, but you’d never guess by the taste.) There’s a wide selection of dairy-free chocolate bar flavors, and they ship all over the United States. Our top recommendation is the Sea Salt Cocoa Nibs Dark Chocolate bar, which is 100 percent dairy-free. The sea salt gives a tantalizing salty punch that enhances the rich dark chocolate, while the nibs lend an extra crunchy bite to give textural interest.
Best for Chocolate Covered Treats: Jacques Torres Dark Chocolate Cornflakes
For a Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory-esque experience, chocolate lovers shouldn’t miss Jacques Torres. Many may recognize the pastry chef from his long career in food television, including the popular Netflix series “Nailed It!”. Widely considered to be the best gourmet chocolate company in all of New York City, Torres hand-crafts everything from bar chocolate and truffles to chocolate covered Cheerios. His artfully crafted bonbons come in flavors like chai, fresh lemon and ancho chipotle, making them perfect for those with a discerning sweet tooth. Our top pick for Jacques’ chocolate shop is the Dark Chocolate Cornflakes, which transform a regular old breakfast food into a decadent treat. They drench clusters of cornflakes in 60% Belgian chocolate and package them in a neat box that’s perfect for gift giving or just munching on yourself.
Best for Beautiful Chocolate Gifts: Christopher Elbow 16 Piece Gourmet Chocolate Collection
Need an impressive gift for chocolate lovers in your life? Look no further than Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolates, a Kansas City-based chocolate shop making some of the most gorgeous truffles in the country. Available in milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or white chocolate flavors, these artful hand-painted truffles are filled with rich chocolate ganache and unique flavors like fresh rosemary, banana lime rum, caramel sea salt and pistachio cherry. Besides being delicious, the presentation is what makes these some of the best chocolates out there: Each of the assorted chocolates from this artisan chocolate shop has a unique shape, color, and design, and the pristine boxes are tied with chocolate brown bows and ready for gifting. This 16-Piece Gourmet Collection makes a stunning gift (or buy it for yourself just because).
Choosing the Best Chocolate for You
Now that you’ve read our recommendation for the best gourmet chocolates, truffles, hot chocolate and chocolate covered treats, you might be feeling just a tiny bit overwhelmed. With so many different chocolates out there, how do you choose? Here we’ll explain a little bit about the various types of chocolates you’ll run across when visiting a chocolate shop.
What Do Chocolate Percentages Mean?
Have you ever wondered what the percentages on a chocolate label mean? That number refers to what percent of the bar consists of pure cacao beans. Turns out the cheap grocery store chocolate you grew up on actually contain very little actual chocolate; it’s mostly full of chemical additives and inexpensive oils. By law, in order to be labeled “chocolate,” a bar only has to contain 10% cacao.
What Is Single Origin Chocolate?
Most big chocolate manufacturers use a mixture of cacao beans from different regions of the world in order to create a standard, uniform flavor. Then they further mute the flavor of the cacao bean by adding fat, milk, and artificial flavors. Because of this, many chocolate lovers have no idea of the broad range of flavors that real chocolate can actually have.
In reality, cacao beans are more like wine grapes: They can taste totally different depending on where and in what conditions they’re grown.
What actually makes dark chocolate dark? Dark chocolate should generally contain only 2 ingredients: cacao and sugar. Dark chocolate does not contain any milk products. If you purchase a chocolate bar labeled “Ecuador 62%,” then you can know that 62% of the bar is made up of cacao beans sourced from Ecuador, while the other 38% is sugar. The higher percentage, the darker and less sweet the chocolate.
As the name tells you, milk chocolate is made with milk. This gives it the creamy, sweet taste beloved by kids all over the world. For most of us, milk chocolate is the “gateway drug.” Interestingly, the milk added to chocolate bars is always in a powdered form; liquid milk would cause the cacao to seize up. Milk chocolate bars are made from a blend of cacao, sugar, and milk powder. A category of chocolate known as milk dark chocolate is becoming more popular these days. This is simply a darker, higher-percentage chocolate — say, a 60% — that has milk added to it for creaminess.
Despite its name, white chocolate isn’t technically chocolate at all. It contains no cacao, instead being made up only of cocoa butter, sugar, and milk powder. As the price of cacao beans (and therefore cocoa butter) has increased significantly in recent years, some white chocolates are made with vegetable oils instead. These means many inferior white chocolate products contain no cocoa products at all.
The Sweet Health Benefits of Chocolate
Having a sweet tooth generally isn’t considered a good thing when it comes to health, but chocolate actually has plenty of health benefits.
Chocolate Is Good for Your Heart
The high concentrations of antioxidants, called flavanols, in chocolate, especially in the dark variety, are naturally-occurring compounds known to have positive influences on vascular health, such as lower blood pressure and improved blood flow to the brain and heart. A study published in August 2010 in the journal Circulation: Heart Failure found that middle-aged and elderly Swedish women who ate an average of one to two servings of high-quality chocolate per week had a 32 percent lower risk of developing heart failure than those who didn’t eat chocolate.
In another 2010 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers asked 1,216 older women how many servings of chocolate they consumed each week. Those who consumed chocolate “frequently” (either 1 to 6 servings or 7 or more servings a week) had a 24 percent lower risk of hospitalization or death from heart disease or heart failure than those who ate it “rarely” (less than 1 serving a week) over the course of 10 years.
…But Portion Control Is Important
Clearly, eating a little dark chocolate occasionally can be healthful, but eating too much won’t be: The tested chocolates that reveal nutrition facts have about 200 calories and 8 to 18 grams of saturated fat per 1.4-ounce serving. So large amounts might harm your heart and expand your waistline.
Greener Choices health experts recommend limiting yourself to small to moderate portions a couple of times a week. Dark chocolate is recommended over white chocolate or milk chocolate since it contains more antioxidants and less sugar. Also, try to steer clear of chocolate treats filled with caramel, marshmallows, or toffee — those sugary ingredients add to the calorie and saturated-fat count.
Some cocoa product labels mention antioxidants, but processing can mean a loss of flavanols, and most commercial chocolate drinks contain relatively small amounts, according to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, an independent, evidence-based evaluator of natural products.
Important Chocolate Labels for the Eco-Conscious
The following is a list of some meaningful eco-labels you can find on chocolate:
What it means:
- Farmers emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality
- Crops are grown without using synthetic fertilizer or the most persistent pesticides
- Crops are produced without genetic engineering or ionizing radiation
- Crops are processed and handled separately from conventional cocoa
For a directory of organic chocolate companies, visit the Organic Consumers Association, a grassroots organic advocacy organization. Click on “organic food” and then “cookies, snacks and candy.”
To learn more about what the organic label means and the different grades of organic, visit our Eco-labels center.
What it means:
- Farmers and workers receive a fair price for their product
- Trade is done directly between farmer-owned cooperatives and buyers
- Crops are grown using soil and water conservation measures that restrict the use of agrochemicals
What it means:
- Crops are grown using integrated pest management systems that limit the use of agrochemicals
- Crops are grown using water, soil and wildlife habitat conservation measures
- Farm laborers are paid salaries and benefits equal to or greater than the legal minimum wage of their countries
To locate Rainforest Alliance certified chocolate, visit the Rainforest Alliance website.
Wrapping Things Up
We hope you enjoyed our guide to the best gourmet chocolates to eat right now. Whether you’re a lover of old fashioned chocolate truffles or uniquely flavored chocolate bars, this guide should help you find a new sweet treat to indulge in. With our handy explanations of the different chocolate labels you’re encounter, you can make an informed decision about what to buy. And now that you know all about the health benefits of chocolate, you can indulge guilt-free.