An assortment of yummy tidbits.

By Real Simple
Updated August 31, 2004
James Merrell

What Makes Chocolate Expensive

The chocolate itself: Artisanal chocolate makers use only the highest-quality cacao beans and a high percentage of cocoa butter. Lower-cost chocolate often has sugar added to mask the flavor.

Fresh, high-quality ingredients: "Really good chocolate isn't candy―it's food," says Alice Medrich, author of A Year in Chocolate. "The ingredients are the same ones used in baking." That means sipping-quality liquor, fresh fruit, and real vanilla.

Labor hours: Commercial companies use machines to mix and mold their products; artisans do it by hand. So a top-quality truffle will have a thin, uniform outer shell, while a lower-end piece will have a much thicker coating and a "foot" left over from the mold.

Packaging: Artisanal chocolates are also packed by hand and protected by individual wrappers or foils in high-quality, tissue-filled boxes.

What Makes Chocolate Taste Good

Chocolate has a range of aromas and flavors, and "the beautiful thing is that no one can tell you what you should like," says Medrich. Yet there are general criteria for deciding whether a chocolate's worth your while.

The chocolate should smell like chocolate. Chocolate that smells moldy signals improper storage; a slight chemical smell means poor quality.

The surface should be glossy and evenly colored. A dull coating (called bloom) means the chocolate hasn't been handled or stored properly.

The chocolate should be fresh. If the base of a filled chocolate is concave, it means the filling is old and has dried up. The outer coating should break cleanly, rather than crumble or splinter, and the chocolate should be smooth and creamy once it hits your mouth.