The Intelligent Consumer: Top of the cocoa pops

Tschirren hand-made chocolates at pounds 50 a kilo really are one of life's little essentials
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Last week, we were told that cigarettes and alcohol are far less dangerous than unhappiness and stress. As if that was not revenge enough on the spoilsports of the health movement, it looks as though chocolate is going to join the list of once naughty, now nice substances.

"Quality chocolate is actually good for you in moderation," explains Lindt's Gavin Tarrant (who admittedly has an interest in promoting choc scoffing). "It satisfies your craving more adequately than cheaper bars of chocolate, in which a high sugar content gives you a rapid blood-sugar surge but can leave you feeling tired and in need of another hit. It also contains phenylethylamine, which can stimulate the natural production of endorphins and seratonin, which make you feel good. So, there really is no reason to deny yourself."

Real chocolate has up to 70 per cent cocoa, whereas your average chocolate bar is dominated by sugar, and cocoa butter is crudely sacrificed to non-cocoa vegetable fats. This leaves a displeasing after-taste, unlike real chocolate, the cocoa butter in which literally melts in your mouth because it dissolves at blood temperature. So, adulterated chocolate may be a threat to the body-conscious, but in its true form, chocolate has positive health benefits!

Once inside the vast and multifarious world of real chocolate, it is amazing how much difference exists in price. The most expensive chocolates at Harrods are made by Tschirren, a Swiss family who have been making chocolates by hand since 1919. A 500g ballotin of Tschirren chocolates costs an outrageous pounds 26.75 compared with Lindt, whose 500g Traditional Deluxe Assortment is more accessible at pounds 12.99.

Uncertain as to whether my taste buds are experienced enough to detect the subtle differences, I take the necessary precautions. With a clear head and a clean palate (as recommended by The Chocolate Society), I survey the two boxes. The Lindt Traditional Deluxe Assortment is immediately impressive. A capacious box, emblazoned with slick gold lettering, contains an array of elaborate designs and fancy fillings. Meanwhile, the understated, portable little ballotin of Tschirren chocs, which you can choose individually from Harrods's chocolaterie, has a certain mystery which a high price always manages to call forth. Within, the chocolates are surprisingly shapeless, jumbled even (and there's no guide to tell you which ones contain your particular bete noire). But the taste is truly exquisite. In comparison, the Lindt chocs, although undeniably good, seem heavier and bit glutinous.

Sarah Hunt, buyer for the Harrods Pantry, explains the difference in quality. "While cheaper chocolates are mass produced, Tschirren chocolates are completely hand made and include only the finest ingredients. All fillings are absolutely fresh and natural." Forget natural. What we want is that endorphin/ seratonin high. And for that, you need chocolates of 70 per cent cocoa handrolled on the thighs of Swiss maidens, pricey or not. And while we're at it, you can pass the Moet and give us a fag.