If you haven’t noticed, I like to bake with chocolate. It’s a good thing. Many of the people who eat my desserts prefer chocolate to any other flavoring. Chocolate suitable for baking comes in a variety of forms from powdered to blocks. Chocolate chips are versatile, relatively easy to find, and often can substitute for other chocolate products in a pinch. They turn up in all kinds of recipes, usually intact. Sometimes they’re melted in a batter or frosting. 

The most common American brands of kosher chocolate chips have dairy ingredients or are made with equipment that is also used to produce dairy chocolate. Depending on where you live, parve chocolate chips can be hard to find in local stores. When a rabbinic colleague asked for a recommendation for semi-sweet chocolate chips that are also parve, the idea for the chocolate chip challenge was born. It took a while to organize and implement. About two months.

chcolate-chips-_1.jpgLet me acknowledge up front that there was nothing scientific about this. Further, I am not paid or compensated in any other way by the kosher chocolate chip industry, though it could be argued that I should be given my investment in its products.

To prepare for The Challenge, I went to all of the grocery stores within a four block radius of my apartment and purchased one 10-ounce bag of each brand of parve chocolate chips that they had for sale. From one kosher market, one health food store, an upscale gourmet-type store, and a regional supermarket chain, I collected six different offerings, all semi-sweet and bearing a hechsher indicating that production was under rabbinic supervision and parve. What choices! There were about twice as many as I’d expected. Nonetheless, I hopped the subway down to Union Square using the Sunday green market as an excuse to pick up a seventh sample, a store brand that’s not available in my neighborhood.

Finding people to test seven brands of parve chocolate chips wasn’t hard at all. One evening, I gathered three enthusiastic volunteers (okay, it was one family member and two house guests) around the dining room table. There were two rounds of tasting. First, they nibbled the chips whole. Then they ate them melted with fresh local strawberries for utensils. Each tester awarded points on a scale of 1-5 (inedible to delicious) and commented on the taste, texture, and any other qualities that made eating the chips enjoyable, unpleasant or somewhere in between, without knowing the brand.

With such a small sample, it’s hard to know whether the testers’ formative chocolate chip eating experiences in Texas, Massachusetts, and California, respectively, or other factors, like what they’d eaten for dinner, had any bearing on the results. Here’s what they said:

The overall favorite in the Chocolate-Chips-Should-Look-and-Taste-Like-Chocolate-Chips category was Trader Joe’s, the brand with the largest chips in the group. The testers really liked their slightly bitter taste. Second overall, Paskesz Real Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (yellow and red package) were appreciated for their “chocolate-y” flavor. Sunspire’s Organic Chocolate Chips, which are Fair Trade Certified, were rated highest by two of the testers. The third grumbled, “tastes like old raisins, not chocolate.”

The testers were less enthusiastic about Paskesz Chocolate Chips (brown package) which contain only sugar, chocolate liquor, and cocoa butter and are kosher for Passover. They had nothing complimentary to say about Lieber’s or Bloom’s Real Chocolate Chips. These are the two brands which use an artificial flavoring, vanillin. The testers reported unpleasant aftertastes with both. 

I didn’t always agree with their assessments. The testers initially panned Enjoy Life semi-sweet chocolate chips, an allergen-free brand made in a dedicated nut- and gluten-free facility. Unlike most of the other chips tested, they’re also made without soy. The only parve mini-chips in The Challenge, these rank among my favorites for baking. I was relieved when they got the top rating in the Bring-on-the-Instant-Fondue round. Melting seems to have brought out their flavor. The testers liked the creamy texture, too. Trader Joe’s, the overall favorite in the first round, became too bitter tasting when melted, but Bloom’s won new admirers.

What’s your take on parve chocolate chips? Love ‘em, hate ‘em, use ‘em when you must? Inquiring bakers want to know!