It’s almost time for Chocolate Day! We mean Valentine’s Day! For this week’s Battle of the Dishes, we’re comparing heart-shaped boxes of chocolates — Russell Stover and its drugstore rival, Whitman’s Sampler. Two classics that beg the question “Who’s the sweetest of them all?”
Box 1: Russell Stover Assorted Fine Chocolates
Russell Stover Candies is the nation’s leading manufacturer of boxed chocolates and the third largest American chocolate manufacturer, after Hershey and Mars, so what better box to begin the taste test? We chose one embossed with gold and “Happy Valentine’s Day” across the front. Inside we found the following 12 sweets: seven milk chocolates filled with either caramel crème, Butterfinger-like crunch, dense caramel, soft caramel, chocolate nougat, a disgusting bubble-gum-flavored nougat, and a sort of corn-syrup-flavored caramel, while five dark chocolates were filled with either caramel crème, marshmallow crème, chocolate ganache, or gooey caramel. Really, each candy seemed amped up on corn syrup and wasn’t that distinguishable from another. But the chocolates were fairly large and several came with a drizzled chocolate design.
Box 2: Whitman’s Sampler
This box, which resembled a needlepoint sampler (hence the name) depicting a floral bouquet, also contained 12 chocolates, four of which were dark chocolate (one fewer than Russell Stover). The milk chocolates were filled with English-style toffee (quite tasty), nougat, soft caramel, hard caramel, or chocolate crème, and one was a solid piece of chocolate. Meanwhile, the dark chocolates were filled with coconut, a butterscotch filling, and hard caramel. All in all a decent selection, but we have to admit we were bummed that there were no chocolate-covered cherries. Maybe those only come in the $10 boxes. This box was lower in calories and fat per serving than the Russell Stover box (150 calories and seven grams of fat versus 200 calories and eight grams of fat) — not that this is a holiday to be watching one’s waistline. Plus, when it comes to chocolates, isn’t the more fattening the better? The variety isn’t bad, though the chocolate still has that cocoa-butter mouthfeel.
But … here comes the shocker. In our research of the two brands, we learned that Whitman’s is owned by Russell Stover! Maybe this is common knowledge, but we were surprised. Whitman’s confections have been produced since 1842, originally by Stephen Whitman in Philadelphia. But in 1993, Whitman’s was purchased by Russell Stover. So no matter who wins this battle of the dishes, Russell Stover still wins out on your dollar.
But which box wins the Valentine’s taste test?
The verdict? Given that the Russell Stover box was far less of an assortment and also contained that gross bubble-gum-esque chocolate, we’re going to give the win to Whitman’s sampler. The overall selection is better with more distinguishable fillings as opposed to that general sweet corn syrup flavor that marks the Russell Stover choices. The English-style toffee chocolates were pretty good, plus the signature branded chocolate was a nice touch. The Russell Stover box also was a bit cheesy whereas the Whitman Sampler has a retro-chic thing going on. At the end of the day, though, they both still taste like $5 chocolates chock full of artificial flavorings. But better to receive $5 chocolates on Valentine’s Day than no chocolates at all.
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