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The Best Dark Chocolate Chips
With chocolate chips now coming in different shapes, sizes, and even cacao percentages, how do you choose? We tested 14 options to find a winner.
Last Updated Feb. 14, 2023. Appears in Cook's Illustrated May/June 2009, America's Test Kitchen TV Season 19: Pork Chops and Oven Fries
Top PicksSee Everything We Tested
What You Need To Know
Chocolate chip cookies are America’s favorites, according to The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book (2013) by Carolyn Wyman. Invented in the 1930s, the recipe called for semisweet chocolate. Today, chocolate chip choices abound, and dark chocolate—which includes “semisweet” and “bittersweet” since there’s no legal distinction—has come a long way. Even Nestlé, which in 1940 launched chocolate morsels, now sells four styles of dark chocolate chips (plus quirky varieties including peanut butter, mint, and pumpkin spice). We bought 14 products labeled dark, special dark, bittersweet, or semisweet and sold as chips, oversize “super” chips, morsels, or chunks. In blind tastings, we sampled them plain and in our Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies (May/June 2009).
A few years ago, when dark chocolate bars got fancy with cacao percentages and exotic origin stories, chips were left behind. They were also made more cheaply: To scrimp on costly cocoa butter and retard melting, manufacturers made them with less fat, resulting in firmer and grittier chips. Today, most chocolate chips we sampled were just as creamy and rich as bar chocolate, called themselves “premium” or “artisan,” and touted cacao percentages. Prices rose, too: When we tasted dark chocolate chips in 2009, prices ranged from $0.19 to $0.30 per ounce, but this time around they cost from $0.27 to $0.74 per ounce.
While we wondered if this premium trend was mere hype, the truth was in our results: Tasters recommended all 14 products, with reservations about three. The top two even earned our highest recommendation.
We had surprising preferences. Since the cookie recipe was invented using so-called semisweet chocolate, we’d worried that darker, more bitter chips might seem out of place—but our tasters actually preferred them. “This is the perfect chocolate chip cookie,” a happy taster wrote about the cookie featuring our winning chip.
Why were darker chips more successful? The ratio of sugar to chocolate. A chocolate’s cacao percentage tells you how much of the candy comes from the cacao bean. Cacao beans are fermented, dried, roasted, cracked, and winnowed to produce nibs, which are ground into a paste called chocolate liquor. This contains cocoa butter and cocoa solids. In chocolate chips, once you account for the cacao, the rest is primarily sugar. The United States Food and Drug Administration only mandates that dark, bittersweet, or semisweet chocolate have at least 35 percent cacao; beyond that, manufacturers are free to tweak processes, recipes, and nomenclature. So one company’s “semisweet” offering can actually have a higher cacao percentage tha...
Everything We Tested
“Creamy, raisiny, intense,” and “cocoa-y” when tasted plain, in the cookies these slightly oversize chips were “very rich,” with “more chocolate flavor!” “The texture is so perfect with the cookie, and the sweetness is spot-on!” Tasters called them “balanced.” “This is the perfect chocolate chip cookie,” said one. “The bitterness of the chocolate complements the cookie dough, and the size of the chips is ideal.” One taster just wrote: “My ideal cookie + chip.”
This product nearly tied with the top-ranked chocolate chips. Its high percentage of cocoa solids made “a more bitter chocolate chip, which I enjoyed,” with a “dark little classic chip shape.” It was “creamy, full-flavored, deeply cocoa-y. Not overly sweet but intensely chocolaty.” “Supersmoky, but deep and rich coffee notes, too. Truly ‘dark’ to my palate. The sophisticate’s chip!” Tasters picked up on “coffee/espresso” notes, finding the chips “roasty, not too sweet,” with a “mellow brightness and a crumbly texture.”
Since these chips had a lower cacao percentage than the top chips, we thought they might not be as intensely chocolaty, but they contained additional cocoa that was Dutch-processed, or treated with alkali, to remove acidity. Tasters called them “rich,” “fruity,” and “not bitter” and loved their “round, definitely chocolaty notes” that tasted “like concentrated hot chocolate.” Their high ratio of fat to cocoa solids meant their texture was “soft,” “smooth,” and “gooey.” Astute tasters nailed these as being “just like a Hershey’s Kiss.” In cookies, some found these “petite” chips “a touch too sweet.” But most agreed that “this tastes and feels like the quintessential chip, smooth and chocolaty with a simple, sweet aftertaste.”
With “solid chocolate flavor,” these “big,” “silky,” “luxurious” chips “toe the line between ‘about right sweet’ and ‘too sweet.’” Tasters appreciated the complex “coconut,” “cherry,” and even “tobacco” notes, as well as some pleasant “bitterness” and a “cocoa butter aftertaste.” In cookies, the chips had “a nicely dense, chewy, almost fudgy quality. And they taste dark! Like good-quality bar chocolate.” “Rich, hearty, bitter, not supersweet but nice in the cookie.” Some tasters felt that these chips held their shape “a little too well” when baked.
These “slabs” or “big disks of chocolate,” which are about the size of a nickel—by far the largest chips in our lineup—were almost “too big” for some tasters, leaving “naked cookie bits” due to “poor coverage.” The chocolate was “milky,” “very creamy and rich,” and offered “complexity,” with “raspberry,” “blueberry,” “espresso,” “coconut,” and even “cinnamon” notes, though the chips were “maybe a hair too sweet.” Tasters enjoyed their “nice, firm,” “dense,” “chewy”—even “meaty”—texture.
“Sweet, simple,” “basic,” “sugary” but “not bitter” and with “classic” chocolate flavor, these chips delivered “great flavor with a sweet first bite.” Tasters enjoyed their complexities, including “dried cherry,” “orange peel,” “warm spice,” and “cinnamon” notes. They contained the lowest fat level in the lineup but had added anhydrous dextrose, a glucose compound that helps make chocolate’s texture smoother. However, we still found them slightly “hard” and “grainy.”
“Rich, fruity, [and] complex” with “tobacco notes,” these chips came across as “deep, dark,” “fancy chocolate!” They were “creamy,” and “melt in your mouth,” with “dark bitter notes at the end” and a “lingering finish,” although a few tasters picked up “artificial” “floral” flavors. Baked in cookies, the “big, abundant chips” kept their “smooth and creamy texture.”
With the lowest cacao percentage in the lineup and an ingredient list that starts with sugar rather than chocolate, these petite chips tasted “mild,” “almost like milk chocolate” and, to several tasters, a little “too sweet.” However, they held their shape well in cookies. Tasters enjoyed notes of “coconut,” “caramel,” “berries or wine,” “raisin,” and even some “smokiness.”
“Sweet with some roasty notes” and with a “caramelly” quality, these chips were “firmer” and “less creamy” than others in the lineup. A few tasters complained that the chocolate flavor lacked “depth.” In cookies, the chips kept their shape and seemed “well balanced” in flavor and texture.” One taster wrote, “What I’d expect in a chocolate chip! Perfectly sweet, good texture.”
Tasted plain, these “chunky” “little logs of chocolate” provided “lots of chocolate in each bite” but were “a little cloying and mild”; as one taster noted: “more sugary than deep chocolate flavor.” Some found them slightly “grainy” or “chalky.” Baked into cookies, “these taste luxurious—great bite and creamy texture as they melt in your mouth,” but a few tasters complained about their size: “Larger chunks means lots of nonchocolate bites.”
“So cute and tiny!” one taster wrote, adding that the flavor of these chips “seems about right: slightly sweet, slightly cocoa-y,” “nutty,” and “roasted”-tasting with “red wine” flavors, as well as “sweet, mild,” and “milky on the finish.” This sweet impression was unsurprising, since the ingredient list starts with sugar: In cookies these chips came across as “a bit too sweet” and “not super chocolaty,” but their texture was “creamy” and “soft” and they “held their shape.”
Recommended with reservations
The original Toll House chocolate chips fared less well with our tasters than we expected; they were recommended only with reservations. Tasters enjoyed “floral,” “fruity” notes but disliked the “slightly gritty texture” when they ate the chips plain. They also wrote that the “sweetness overpowers the chocolate” while acknowledging the chips’ “uncomplex,” “classic chocolate flavor” and “nice, smooth, creamy texture” when baked in cookies. As one astute taster wrote: “This, in my mind, tastes like the classic Toll House chip.”
These “brick-shaped” chunks had “deep, cocoa-y flavor” and were “fruity, almost like having a cherry cordial” with an “espresso/coffee aftertaste.” They were also “dark and rich” and “a little bitter, in a good way,” although a few tasters found them too sweet. Baked into cookies, the chips “didn’t disperse evenly,” leaving large chip-free swaths. Their shape made tasters perceive them as “BIG for this application,” with “lots of spread,” and tasters (accurately) said they made the cookie look “like a giraffe.”
These chips tasted great, but their rectangular shape held them back. Tasters deemed them “fruity, dark,” “intense,” and “very complex,” with “cherry” and “brandy” notes and a “buttery,” “creamy, yielding texture.” With the highest cacao percentage in the lineup, these were the “darkest” chocolate chips we tasted. One taster raved: “Tastes expensive.” But others were cautious, calling these chips “Too dark for me” and “quite bitter.” “I like this chocolate, but it doesn’t fit the chocolate chip profile.” In cookies, they were “visibly very different: Chocolate is in huge splotches and tastes burnt around the edges and bottom because the chocolate spread and there’s no dough to protect it.” It baked up grainy and broken rather than smooth, and the chunks were deemed “too big for cookies,” with either too many or too few per cookie. “I thought the flavor was good,” wrote one taster, but, “if I made this cookie and it looked like this, I’d think I messed up.”
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Lisa is an executive editor for ATK Reviews, cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube, and gadget expert on TV's America's Test Kitchen.