Jan. 15, 2014 at 7:43 AM ET
Valentine's Day is less than a month away, and many Americans will be shopping for chocolate. It's a $20 billion-a-year industry, from the cheaper brands that can be bought in a bag to expensive gourmet varieties sold in lavish packaging.
But telling the difference between the two may not be as easy as many think.
TODAY set up shop in New Jersey's Menlo Park Mall for a blind taste test: generic milk chocolate that costs 16 cents per piece versus a gourmet milk chocolate five times more expensive, at 81 cents per piece. Tasters put on blindfolds and tested the cheaper chocolate, on a white napkin, versus the expensive chocolate on a red napkin. After each taste, everyone was given a palate cleanser: crackers and water.
Plenty of tasters chose the expensive brand. "I got the smoothness of it," said one. "It has more creaminess," said another.
However, many tasters who chose the cheaper chocolate cited the same reason. "It tasted creamier," one said. "It was creamier, just had a little more flavor to it," another agreed about the less expensive brand.
After a day of taste-testing involving dozens of people, the results came in: Nearly half said they like the cheaper chocolate better. "This one is better and has a sweeter taste to it," one tester said of the cheaper brand. "When it comes to chocolate, you want it to be sweet."
In fact, cheaper chocolate is often sweeter. And chocolate expert Liz Gutman of Liddabit Sweets in Brooklyn, N.Y., said there's a reason many prefer it.
"It's got more sugar, it's sweeter," Gutman explained. "And it's also what people are used to. That's what they grew up eating."
Gutman said expensive chocolates have finer ingredients and more cocoa. But as one taster put it, it doesn't matter if it's expensive; you don't have to spend a whole lot of money on chocolate.