A comparison of dark chocolates from Trader Joe’s

food and nutrition, happy body

Methodology
I took a bite of the famed whole-wheat Ak-Mak cracker and sips of orange juice in between chocolate nibbles.

Goal
Vital learning in the name of science, with an aim to provide thoughtful, unbiased info to my fellow dark chocolate lovers.

Grand summary
– Villars – Swiss chocolate:  Sharpest (along with Trader Joes)
– Valrhona – French chocolate:  creamest, sweetest, with a noticeable but mild afterbite, fruity
– Guaranda – Equadorian chocolate (strangely labeled “European chocolate”):  smokey
– Trader Joe’s Pound Plus (“TJ”) – Belgian chocolate:  thickest of all, tied for sharpest with Villars, faintly fruity, hardest, least creamy initially

Relevant notes

  • All the chocolate bars boasted a chocolate percentage ranging from 70-72%, and contained the following ingredients:  Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, and soy lecithin (as an emulsifier).  Additionally, the Villars contained “flavours” and the Valrhona was “flavored with natural vanilla.”
  • I conducted three ‘rounds’ of testing.  In one of the rounds, I simply ate a small piece of chocolate from each bar one after another.  In the other two rounds (with differing sampling orders), I ate a piece of Ak-Mak wheat cracker and sipped some orange juice in between chocolate pieces to cleanse my palate.

My observations

  • Since the TJ was at least twice as thick as the others, it was hard to compare the mouth-feel.  Since, for instance, thinner chocolate will naturally melt more quickly in the mouth, this significantly alters the perception of creaminess.
  • Sampling 12 small pieces of chocolate wasn’t as enjoyable as I imagined.  I felt somewhat unpleasantly full, even after eating less than one bar total.  Note that the testing was done after a sizeable lunch, however.
  • The Villars and TJ tied for sharpest / most-bitter… but not unpleasantly bitter.  All the chocolates, at least by my tastes, were amply sweet.
  • The Valrhona was the creamiest and sweetest, perhaps due to the added vanilla.
  • The Valrhona and, to a slightly lesser extent, the TJ had a mildly fruity aftertaste.  Though Scharffenberger chocolate was not included in this test round, I distinctly remember that particular brand having a comparatively much more powerful—almost overpowering—fruitiness to it.
  • The Guaranda had the most unique flavor, both initially and lingering.  The wrapper describes it as “…exotic wood nuances”… but, before reading this, the first word that came to my mind was “smokey.”  Not in a bad way, and it was very subtle, but still noticeable.  This wasn’t surprising to me, since I had eaten roasted (unsweetened) cacao beans… and they do taste woodsy/smokey to me.

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The bottom line

All of these chocolates are delicious, and—sans the “Pound Plus” TJ wrapper—I’d be proud to serve any of them to guests.  I do wish the TJ was less thick (sliced horizontally down the middle in the pack would be perfect!), but overall, it’s an extremely good buy given the price! (around $4.50 as of August, 2006).  In particular, I’ve found that combining a handful of mixed nuts with a single thick piece of the TJ chocolate makes for a wonderfully delicious snack… and—given the mix of fats, proteins and antioxidants—a rather filling and healthy one, too, in moderation.

For pure sampling / eating right out of the wrapper, I’d probably go with one of the non-TJ chocolates, but couldn’t state a preference amongst them at present.

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Hope this has been helpful, or at least blissfully insightful.  Any other chocolate lovers out there?  😀

7 comments… add one
  • Susan Aug 13, 2006

    Have you tried:
    Lindt – fabulous Swiss chocolate
    Droste – the best and purest chocolate in the world, and I am not only saying this because Droste is Dutch, like me 🙂

  • Wanita Aug 22, 2006

    Neuhaus and Moonstruck are excellent boutique chocolate my dear. Moonstruck especially for heavenly truffles.
    But for your TJ’s tasting, did you get to try to TJ brand belgium chocolate bars? They some in 3-packs near the register in hazelnut ( yum), milk choclate and dark. The dark is as good as Lindt’s dark. And quite a value! The bonus is the smaller-than-normal size of the candy bar means you get a full-size reward with fewer calories. 😛

  • Meredith Sep 6, 2006

    Have you tried Perugina?  It’s been a while since I’ve had it, but I seem to remember that it was pretty smooth. 

    A friend of mine also got me a box of single-origin chocolates under the Trader Joe’s label for Christmas.  They were from three different countries and came in thin little squares.  Definately worth a try.

    Nice meeting you at SONH, btw.

  • Brian Feb 20, 2007

    Endangered species Black Panther bar (88% cocoa) is my absolute favorite
    Villars 72% is surprisingly smooth, however I like my chocolate to bite back a bit.
    Lindt has a sour aftertaste too me as does TJ’s 73% “super-dark” bar.
    Dolfin 88% is nice
    Valrhona is also very good

  • Mike Apr 1, 2009

    I used to buy Lindt’s Dark Chocolate bars, the 3.5 ounce ones. I started off with the 70% cocoa bars and then graduated to 85%. After Trader Joe’s opened in RI last year, I discovered their Pound Plus Dark Chocolate (72% Cocoa) bars. These are much cheaper than the Lindt bars. For over a pound, I only pay $4 bucks. Whereas the Lindt bars cost anywhere from $1.92 to $2.72 for only 3.5 ounces. Wal-Mart sells them for the cheapest. But who likes shopping there?

    I’m not too picky on taste. I eat Dark Chocolate for two reasons: Medicinal purposes and to keep my chocolate craving in check. I eat one ounce a day and that works for me. I eat this as a snack every day with some Trader Joe’s Dry Roasted (Unsalted) Almonds. It’s more like a meal, though, as this combination really fills you up. I’ve had no problems losing weight. As long as you watch what you eat the rest of the day, one ounce a day should be fine. Add an ounce of almonds a day to your diet too. They are great for your heart.

  • Meg Aug 6, 2009

    Interesting and USEFUL information!  I had the opposite response to Valrhona and TJ’s Swiss Dark Chocolate—I found the Valrhona to be somewhat bitter, too strong for me to enjoy the chocolate flavor.  The TJ Swiss, however, was really flavorful and smooth, intensely chocolatey but not bitter.  I might attribute the differences in our responses simply to how we perceive and enjoy chocolate (and, perhaps, other foods).  I used Ghirardelli 70%(ish) chocolate in an ice cream recipe and was somewhat disappointed, but I suppose my expectations were high.  Maybe that’s what happens when a “premium” chocolate starts appearing in grocery stores.  I commend your dedication to the cause and appreciate all your very important research here!

  • Adam Aug 6, 2009

    Wow… just circling back to this thread.  So nice to hear from so many other chocolate-foodies 😀 (and also cool to see that so many others know about and love Trader Joes).  I’m glad that my project (all in the name of science, of course) was well-received… and I’ll consider doing a related project in the future 😀

What do you think?