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The best (and worst) Valentine's Day candy

Whether you're trying to make up or break up this Valentine's Day, we've got the candy for you.
Valentine's Day candies range from sweet to sweeter.
Valentine's Day candies range from sweet to sweeter.Courtesy Heather Martin

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Hey, headed over to your sweetie's for Valentine's Day, huh? Oh my stars, you can't go empty-handed! Stop at the drugstore and redeem yourself. Just get one of everything and we'll narrow them down. So many options in the gift bag: Will they love them, or love them not? Let me count the ways.

Heart-shaped boxes

Elmer Chocolate Box

They've gone with a questionable emoji theme for these boxes, and with no brand logo, there's a generic feel to them. I can think of a couple of people I'd like to give a poop emoji to, though, so maybe they're onto something. They also have several designs appropriate for friends, teachers and serious adults. The candies look nice, shiny and uniform, and there are a lot of them for the price. The chocolate has a decent snap, but it's thin and a bit waxy, leaving room for the artificial fruit-adjacent cream fillings to overwhelm. Conversely, the caramel filling is bland and liquid. I love them not!

Russell Stover Assorted Milk & Dark Chocolates

Heavens to Betsy, this is the stuff. It's more expensive, but as soon as you open the box, you'll know why. There's a robust chocolate aroma and an almost handmade look to the candies. The caramel is sturdy but not stiff, the coconut is real, and the chocolate has a good-natured warmth to it. When I eat one of these, I feel like it was made just for me. There are several box sizes available, and they also make a variety of flavors of filled hearts in individual Mylar packages, perfect for a longer list of treat recipients. I love them!

Kit Kat Miniatures Milk Chocolate Box

With the minis, I miss breaking off a piece to share, but they still have that pleasantly malty crunch. The chocolate is extra sweet even for milk. Be forewarned that this option isn't very romantic, with no Valentine-edition flavor, color or shape, and they're just dumped in the flimsy paperboard box like so many landfill junkers. If the one you love loves Kit Kats, this is a fine choice, but personally, I want something a little less pedestrian on the 14th. I love them not!

The classics

Original Sweethearts Candies

Well, they're still terrible after all these years. What were you thinking, buying these? Oh right, you were thinking that if you squint, some of them have risqué messages. I would compliment your craftiness, but their quality control is not your friend. You're getting nowhere with messages like "Orb jorb, "Sweatie" and "Lue yug." The candy isn't your friend, either. Inarticulate and only marginally fruity, somehow both a 1 and a 10 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness — they're tough as diamonds and chalky as … chalk. They are the mothball of candy. I love them not!

Dum-Dums Heart Pops

Wow, these take me back — to a 1980s pediatrician's office. I dug through the bag hoping for the only good flavor, pineapple. No dice. Inexplicably, they decided to base all four flavors on cherry, swirling in lemon, passionfruit, berry and the Devil's dental floss, cotton candy. If required by law to choose, go for the cherry lemonade. The rest taste like children's Ibuprofen. I love them not!

Pink Peeps

They're not just for Easter anymore! I feel that dilutes their brand, but in recent years they've added some fun seasonal flavors like gingerbread and red velvet. When they're really fresh, they have a lovely whisper-crisp sugar shell uniformly coating the squishy middle. To paraphrase style guru Tim Gunn, it's a good texture if that's the texture you're going for. They're so pink I can hear them, but sadly, I can't taste them — plain old marshmallow this year. I love them not!

Jelly Belly Red Raspberry Hearts

I would like to have some decent, non-chocolate, allergy-friendly options to suggest, but so far, we're batting zero. Jelly Belly to the rescue, right? Their flavors are always a home run, or at least in the ballpark. The shape is cute, but a few are stuck together, and some appear to be shedding sprinkles like they have confectionery mange. The smell recalls Jell-O, but I'm surprised and disappointed to report the flavor is far below that standard. The texture of the coating reminds me of the time I bit into a granola bar before realizing it had pantry moths in it, and the jellied inside is similarly larval. If you press them between your fingers, they deform outwards disconcertingly, pumping like Poe's telltale heart. Jelly Belly should hide their shame under the floorboards. I love them not!

Heart-Shaped Pez Dispensers

Pez candy is a bit powdery, but it's smoother than similar tablet confections, and the flavor is more intense. It's artificial to be sure, but the balance between sweet and tart is right, and it has real nostalgia going for it. With everything from holiday themes to licensed characters, the dispensers are always a plus, and they're a great way to add a little personalization. It's the best thing you'll ever taste out of anything's neck. I love them!

Heart-Shaped Junior Mints

Junior Mints has made a respectable, thankfully non-anatomically correct heart shape with no insect egg overtones! So far, so good. The hearts have the familiar minty punch, but the lower surface-to-volume ratio makes the chocolate less prominent.

Some of them have red goo in what I can only assume is a heartfelt (wink wink) tribute to the slasher classic, "My Bloody Valentine." They're gluten-free and perfect for that creepy someone special. I love them!

Bagged favorites

If you'd like to really pamper your beloved, think about a big bag of their favorite. The ones that come individually wrapped are also great for dividing up into party favor bags, or pretending you're going to limit yourself to one serving.

M&M's Valentine's Day Bag

M&M's are my personal kryptonite. I almost never buy them because I will eat the whole bag hunkered in the corner like a feral child, snarling at anyone who comes within 20 feet. I was excited to try the Black Forest Cake and Fudge Brownie ones. Both are pink, red and white assortments, and both are a lot larger than the regular milk chocolate M&M's. The change in size really affects the feel of the crunch, making them almost unrecognizable as the same candy. The cherry in the black forest flavor is barely there, certainly not the awful cough syrup cherry that many candies fall victim to, but not very compelling, either. The Fudge Brownie ones do taste sort of like brownies. They're fine, I guess? Meh. The bags are still languishing on the table, mostly full, which has honestly never happened to me before. I love them not!

Reese's Peanut Butter Hearts

Reese's Peanut Butter Hearts are nothing fancy, nothing new, but they sure are delicious. The peanut butter filling is thicker than the usual cups, but that's not a bad thing. Keep in mind that nut allergies are a big concern for some, so they may not be the best choice for classroom favors or a big bowl set out for visitors. There's a second version that's covered in pink white chocolate, but the shape is really odd, stretched out like Dali's clock, and white chocolate doesn't contrast enough with the peanut butter. The milk chocolate ones, though, are an old standby that still delivers. I love them!

Hershey's Meltaway Kisses

I love the packaging for Hershey's Meltaways this season. The red roses on the foil wrappers are a deep red and look so inviting piled in a bowl. The flavor is much like regular Kisses, but they really do melt in your mouth. This is a great option for someone whose preferences you don't know well; almost anyone would be happy with them. I love them!

Dove Midnight Fudge Cookie Promises

Dove's Promises line is almost always a good bet, but these are outstanding. I love the navy and pink wrappers and Truth or Dare theme, and the candy itself is addictive. They're the perfect date — sweet but grown up, sophisticatedly dark yet not bitter, and there's just a hint of naughty. The cookie bits are something like an Oreo, big enough and crisp enough that you get a nice crumble instead of a weird chrysalis crunch, and the chocolate is medium dark. Younger kids might not be fans, but that means more for you. I love them!

Premium chocolates

This is the best time of year to splurge on really good chocolates, and any drugstore will have a few fancy-pants brands to hit the sweet spot.

Ghirardelli's Intense Dark Squares

Ghirardelli's Intense Dark Chocolate squares are a stellar choice for the discerning chocolate-loving valentine. Great snap, melty without being waxy, and they have that back-of-the-tongue bitterness that I avoided as a child but pay extra for as an adult. I love them!

Ghirardelli's White Chocolate Crème Brûlée Hearts

I love the look of these, with the sophisticated blush packaging and finely scrolled stacked hearts. There's a strong vanilla scent and a little bit of a genuine caramelized sugar finish, with a sea of white chocolate in between. Regrettably, it's the Gulf of Mexico after an oil spill — the mouthfeel is greasy and thick. Maybe I'm biased after the unpleasant reminder of the larval granola bar earlier in the tastings, but the crunchy bits aren't quite right, either. They don't add enough to the flavor, yet they detract from the texture. I love them not!

Lindt Strawberries and Cream Truffles

These bring white chocolate back from the brink pretty effectively. They melt without coating your tongue and the cocoa butter comes through. There's almost a meringue quality to the strawberry filling. It's very light but the berry flavor is convincing enough, something like a strawberry milkshake. I love them!

Tony's Chocolonely Salted Caramel Bar

Do you remember reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" for the first time, trying to imagine what real Wonka chocolate would taste like? Wonder no more — Tony's brings it to life. I don't know how they do it. The balance is just perfect, snapping, melting and crunching in perfect harmony. There's just a hint of salt, and the caramel is toffee that shatters on command.

The design of the bar is so unique and beautiful, perfect whether you plan to hoard it whole or share the bits of varied size. I heard that Tony's made a heart-shaped bar with rose fudge bits for the holiday, but it was sold out near me. The wrapper on the bar I did find is so cheery and fun that it hardly matters that it's not specifically Valentine's themed. The really standout part about Tony's though, is their ethical stance. They're the first, and until very recently, one of the only chocolate companies to ensure that their cocoa beans do not come from slave labor. It's an uncomfortable truth about chocolate, but Tony's faces it, and they've found a solution. That they do this while making what is literally the best chocolate I've ever tasted? Well, that's real love, to me. I'm putting a ring on this one.

Final verdict

Best: For overall flavor, design and ethical business, Tony's Chocolonely can't be beat. Your sweetie will hear the Oompa Loompas sing and love you for supporting one of the good guys. Great picks from the drugstore runners-up range from fun to fancy: Russell Stover, Dove Midnight Fudge Cookie Promises, Junior Mints, Pez dispensers, Lindt Strawberry Truffles, Ghiradelli Intense Dark Squares and Reese's Hearts.

Worst: On the other hand, if you're looking to break up with that special someone, grab the biggest gift bag on the shelf and fill it with cherry Dum-Dums Heart Pops, Sweethearts and every available package of ghastly pink Peeps you can find. You'll never hear from them again.

I can't in good conscience suggest that you buy the Jelly Belly Red Raspberry Hearts for anyone, though. The thumping under the floorboards? That's forever.