If you are reading this story, you may have already screwed up Valentine’s Day.
You forgot to make a restaurant reservation. You’re not very good in the kitchen. You didn’t buy a gift that’s personal for your sweetheart, or seek out sweets hand-crafted by an artisan chocolatier. It’s too late for something handmade or heartfelt, so you’re likely buying a last-minute panic present.
Chocolate brands like Whitman’s and Russell Stover are counting on your “oops” moment. There they are, in the familiar red heart-shaped boxes, romantically adjacent to the dish soap at your local CVS, waiting for you to pick up your prescription medication and cat food and realize — d’oh! — it’s Valentine’s Day.
With so many choices, we assembled a taste-testing team to determine which heart-shaped box of assorted chocolates is the best. Six members of the Food staff rated each box for taste, appearance and whether or not we’d give it to our own loved ones. We assigned each one a score from 1 to 10, with 1 being “I will divorce you if you are crazy enough to think this is a good gift” and 10 being “Be mine, Valentine.”
No, it’s not the same company as the glue manufacturer.
Average score: 1.3
“I sliced my finger open on this crappy packaging, so buy this for someone you hate.”
“This box says, ‘I would like to see other people.'”
“Generic ‘Froot’ flavor.”
“Feels even cheaper than it looks.'”
Price (at Giant): $3
Price per piece (8 pieces): 37 cents
With a “Frozen”-themed box, it’s the perfect Valentine’s Day gift for your 5-year-old daughter.
Average score: 2
“Makes me want to be a pediatric dentist.”
“Creepy to give in a romantic setting.”
Notes of: “Cotton candy,” “Licorice,” “Chalk,” “Blech”
Price (at Target): $11.69
Price per piece (13 pieces): 90 cents
Hershey’s Pot of Gold
The heart-shaped box of chocolate that says, “I’m going to break up with you next week.”
Average score: 2.1
“Just a ball of sugary nothing.”
“Tooth-achingly sweet, stale-ish.”
Price (at Target): $4.99
Price per piece (13 pieces): 38 cents
Mars Mini Mix
The Valentine’s Day chocolate you buy for your sixth-grade boyfriend/girlfriend after you already spent most of your allowance on video games.
Average score: 2.3
“A Twix is actually comforting in comparison to some of these [other boxes.]”
“Who doesn’t like Snickers and Twix?”
“I would slap anyone who handed me this box. But for kids, it would be a nice, not-too-serious Valentine gift.”
Price (at Walgreens): $5.99
Price per piece (24 pieces): 24 cents
The classic Valentine’s Day sampler, with the old-timey cross-stitch pattern on the box and the widest variety of flavors.
Average score: 3.3
“The iconic ‘Life is like a box of chocolates’ chocolates.”
“The flavors seem dated: Apricot cream? Molasses chew?”
“Chocolate-covered peanuts are a real weak offering.”
Price (at Giant): $10.99
Price per piece (26 pieces): 42 cents
Don’t let the heart-shaped box trick you: Inside, it’s just individually wrapped squares of this San Francisco brand.
Average score: 3.5
“The chocolate is better than most, but the packaging kills it.”
“Nice for a platonic friend or coworker.”
“Medicinal peppermint but chocolate itself is OK.”
Price (at Giant): $5.29
Price per piece (8 pieces): 66 cents
Fun fact: Lindt owns both Russell Stover and Whitman’s, which are very similar. But there were a few reasons Russell Stover edged out its corporate sibling.
Average score: 3.6
“It offers a mix of textures, a mix of flavors, which others do not.”
“The chocolate takes a back seat to the fillings.”
“Candy is too sweet by far. Center had a chemical taste, and chocolate is waxy.”
“Take off the cardboard sleeve, and this looks traditional and nice.”
Price (at Giant): $10.99
Price per piece (25 pieces): 43 cents
With packaging that declares its “gourmet” bona-fides, this brand has an air of fanciness that makes it seem like less of a screw-up gift.
Average score: 5
“Doesn’t feel as mass-produced, even though it is.”
“The packaging inside is impressive, airy, classy.”
“The melty, oily filling was really unappealing.”
“Standard Lindt truffle, with creamy center and too-thick shell.”
Price (at Giant): $9.99
Price per piece (10 pieces): 99 cents
Dove had the nicest packaging of all: a stylish heart-shaped tin, and little love notes (“hopeless romantic” “live passionately”) underneath each chocolate. We wish there would have been a better balance between milk and dark chocolate, though.
Average score: 5.1
“The most appealing, elegant-looking box in the bunch.”
“Extra points for including simple, likable flavors.”
“Shell is OK, but the center is a little dense.”
“Surprised to see mostly milk chocolate (supposed to be an assortment).”
Price (at Giant): $12.99
Price per piece (23 pieces): 56 cents
With its fancy brand name, this is what you should give when you just met someone on Tinder within the last two weeks and you’re not serious enough for a real Valentine’s Day but feel like you have to do something to mark the occasion anyway.
Average score: 5.3
“Fancier chocolate, cheap Clip Art box design.”
“Decent snap of the dark chocolate, tastes fairly fresh.”
“Decent shell, decent filling, I wouldn’t be unhappy to get this.”
Price (at Walgreens): $16.99
Price per piece (15 pieces): $1.13
The winner. We loved these hazelnut chocolates, which didn’t have the flavor and waxy texture of additives that so many of the other choices had. And individually wrapping each chocolate kept this box fresher than the rest. We even dug the the white chocolate, which is usually the dud in any box. Ferrero Rocher, be our valentine.
Average score: 7.5
“Actually tastes like chocolate. Hazelnut is awesome, as always.”
“Sugar is not the first flavor you taste.”
“Nice combo of crunchy and creamy.”
Price (at Giant): $11.69
Price per piece (16 pieces): 73 cents