Cheap vs. Expensive Ingredients in Chocolate Chip Cookies
I recently had a baking question pop into my mind that I knew I had to get into the kitchen to test.
I wondered if using cheap vs. expensive ingredients in my Bakery Style Chocolate Chip Cookies would make a difference in overall taste, texture, and quality.
Running to Google, I saw that Nate from The Internet had done an experiment on his YouTube channel that I knew I had to recreate and see for myself!
So, I went to the grocery store and selected the most inexpensive, mostly store-brand generic ingredients as well as the most high-end, premium ingredients to test the same recipe side-by-side.
Let’s dive into today’s baking experiment to see if using more expensive ingredients in cookies is worth it!
All new ingredients were purchased from the start to eliminate freshness as a variable (prices will vary if you already have the ingredients). Amounts used in each batch is shown in parentheses.
Disclaimer: we recognize the words ‘cheap’ and ‘expensive’ are relative and mean something different to everyone. Just being able to bake cookies is a privilege in itself that none of us at HTH take for granted. We certainly aren’t trying to exclude anyone baking on a budget with this post – in fact, you’ll soon see how I really feel about the more expensive ingredients.
Cheap vs. Expensive Ingredients in Cookies: Which is Better?
INGREDIENTS USED FOR “CHEAP” COOKIES
Total for new sets of ingredients: $41.30
Total cost for 1 batch of cookies: $11.12 (amounts shown in parentheses)
- Signature all-purpose flour – 5 lb $3.99 (380g @ $0.67)
- Arm & Hammer baking soda – 1 lb $1.99 (1 tsp @ $0.01)
- Signature sea salt – 12.4 oz $3.99 (1 tsp @ $0.05)
- Lucerne unsalted butter – 16 oz $4.99 (227g @ $2.50)
- Signature granulated sugar – 4 lb $3.79 (100g @ $0.21)
- Signature light brown sugar – 32 oz $2.79 (247g @ $0.76)
- McCormick vanilla extract – 1 oz $6.99 (2 tsp @ $2.43)
- Eggland’s Best eggs – 12 count $5.99 (2 @ $1.00)
- Signature (Safeway store brand) semisweet chocolate chips – 12 oz $3.49 (340g @ $3.49)
INGREDIENTS USED FOR “EXPENSIVE” COOKIES
Total for new sets of ingredients: $93.55
Total cost for 1 batch of cookies: $23.20 (amounts shown in parentheses)
- Hayden Flour Mills white sonora wheat all-purpose flour – 2 lbs/907 grams $9.89 (380g @ $4.14)
- Arm & Hammer baking soda – 1 lb $1.99 (1 tsp @ $0.01)
- Fleur de Sel – 4 oz $18.95 (1 tsp @ $0.70)
- Grassland unsalted butter – 16 oz $7.98 (227g @ $3.99)
- Wholesome organic cane sugar – 16 oz $5.99 (100g @ $1.32)
- Wholesome organic light brown sugar – 24 oz $7.49 (247g @ $2.72)
- Nielsen Massey pure vanilla extract – 4 oz $22.99 (2 tsp @ $2.00)
- Vital Farms eggs – 12 count $7.99 (2 @ $1.33)
- Guittard super cookie semisweet chips – 10 oz $6.99 (340g @ $6.99)0
Chocolate Chip Cookie Experiment Appearance Results
It was interesting to note that we could tell a difference in appearance in the cookies before they even hit the oven just from the cookie dough and cookie dough balls.
The “expensive” cookie dough was darker in color compared to the “cheap” cookie dough. This is likely due to the organic brown sugar being darker in color compared to the cheap brown sugar used. It seems more so lately that there’s a wide variety of colors and intensities of brown sugar products.
The expensive cookies baked up perfectly round and didn’t spread much at all. The chocolate wafers on top were visually beautiful and made these cookies look like they belong in the case of a gourmet bakery.
The inexpensive cookies spread more, were more wrinkly around the edges, and more brown around the edges. Without even tasting them, we could already tell the centers would be very gooey and almost slightly underbaked even though they baked for the same time, at the same temperature, in the same oven.
Chocolate Chip Cookie Experiment Taste Results
With the expensive cookies, we could actually sense the sugar granules in the cookie more because the organic sugar granules were bigger. These cookies had more of a butterscotch flavor because the brown sugar used was darker in color. The chocolate wafers are more subtly sweet compared to the chocolate chips used in the “cheap” batch.
The lower cost cookies definitely tasted closer to a traditional chocolate chip cookie, almost more like premade store-bought chocolate chip cookie dough. The chocolate chips tasted a little more artificial and sweet, especially after tasting the premium chocolate wafers in the expensive cookies.
We actually conducted a fun blind taste-test experiment in the studio to see if people could guess which cookie was the cheap cookie and which was the expensive one.
Every person who did the blind taste test guessed correctly! The participants said they could tell which were the more expensive cookies because that one had better flavor, the chocolate wafers were delicious, and the texture was more enjoyable. Even our photographer’s school-age son said “I can tell these are the expensive cookies, they just taste expensive!”
Chocolate Chip Cookie Experiment Texture Results
The expensive cookies were thicker, puffier, and fuller than a regular chocolate chip cookie. These were soft, chewy, with a slight crisp to the edges.
The cheap cookies were very, very gooey in the middle, greasy and slightly oily on the bottoms, chewy in the center, with a very crunchy edge. These cookies would likely be more enjoyed by someone who enjoys a crispier texture to their cookie, although the greasy bottoms weren’t the most appealing.
In fact, greasy cookies is a complaint I sometimes see in social media and blog comments. Now I know it could very well be the choice of butter that’s at fault!
Overall, the expensive cookies were definitely the winner among everyone who tasted them in the studio.
However, I wouldn’t say I preferred the expensive cookies over my classic Bakery Style Chocolate Chip Cookies made with my go-to ingredients. My HTH-approved ingredients are not always the most expensive. In fact, I often test recipes with the most widely accessible ingredients to make sure the recipes will turn out for everyone. I don’t want to create an unfair advantage for myself in my test kitchen using extra premium ingredients hardly anyone else will use!
It’s hard to say which ingredient is worth splurging on without conducting single ingredient comparison tests.
Our takeaway in the studio was that the butter was a huge factor in what made the expensive cookies more enjoyable in terms of taste and texture. This may be because the cheaper brand of butter contains more water content. However, the differences in the flour used are worth noting too. The Hayden Mills flour is made with wheat that’s milled local here in Arizona and is unbleached and unenriched. But there’s also the vanilla and chocolate, both of which contain a wide array of quality among selections at the store.
Basically, ingredients used can make a huge difference. Have you noticed any differences in your cookie baking based on the brand, quality, or style of ingredients used? Tell me in the comments below!
More Science of Baking Articles:
- Ingredients I NEVER Use In Baking
- How to Bake Picture Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Best (and WORST) Baking Pans
- How to Bake THICK Cookies
Cookie Recipes You’ll Love:
- Bakery Style Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Browned Butter Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Photos by Joanie Simon.
I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)
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I need to make the butter change. I only use King Arthur’s Flour, high quality vanilla, brown sugar and chocolate chips. I’ve always gotten generic white sugar and butter. I will try a good butter the next time I bake cookies.
The interesting this about the sugar is – great value is a beet and cane sugar, I don’t know the ratio. While domino is 100% cane sugar. Non-cane sugar definitely changes how the dough spreads.
This is an interesting read. I’d also note that Sonoran flour is made with a softer wheat than most AP flour. It has less protein which is why it makes such amazing tortillas.
I use a mix of Callebaut 811 and Valrhona 58%, I also add a bit of dark gianduja, and use vanilla powder in place of the extract. I use a co-op butter that is 83/84% and can definitely always tell the difference between that and LOL. It’s too bad to hear that the Lucerne butter leads to a greasy cookie, I had considered purchasing some to try but it doesn’t seem worth it now.
This is such an interesting article, and if you are going to do further research, I would like to see butter comparisons. I use both Kerrigold and Horizon brand organic, and always worry about which style is better in baking.
In addition to what’s been mentioned, the one ingredient I have noticed the biggest difference in is powdered sugar. The grocery near us was wiped out of name brand so I had to buy the store brand. I thought it tasted and smelled like a stale bath towel, and the texture was way off.
Hi Elese! Yes, when we get a chance to test at the ingredient level, butter will definitely be one of the first side-by-sides we try 🙂 As for powdered sugar, we couldn’t agree more; the texture of some brands definitely leaves a lot to be desired. Tessa loves Wholesome Organic powdered sugar for this reason – the taste and texture are wonderful. Happy baking 🙂
I’m a big baker but don’t always follow the rules. I loved this experiment. Definitely use real butter and extra large eggs. Always thought my secret was Mexican vanilla. Expensive chocolate chips helps. Never thought about the flour, but will going forward. Thanks for sharing all your tips. I always love learning more about baking.
So interesting! I usually use Costco salted butter in my go to chocolate chip recipe. When I switched it out for Kerry Gold butter, I had a much harder time mixing up the cookie – getting all of the flour in. I wondered if it was bc the Costco butter has more water!
Hi Liz! Yes, it’s probably a combination of store-brand butter containing more water, and European-style butter (such as Kerrygold) containing a higher percentage of butterfat, which is amazing in some recipes or spread on bread, but can cause some mishaps in American recipes designed for American butters. It’s all so fascinating to experiment and learn from, isn’t it? 😉
I only use real butter, but not the most expensive. I do however pay attention to the fat content. I only use Callebaut chocolate and real vanilla. The flour is restaurant grade and I never switch brands. I also use lg. or extra lg eggs. I do have a small Bakery/Cafe in Northern California. Interesting fact with eggs is that I make 60 3 oz cookies at a time (1 batch) 8 eggs and the cookies turn out the same no matter how lg the eggs.
I love your baking insights and how you educate all of us. Keep up the good work. Jaci Sowell
I wondering if you’ve done experiments to see which ingredients may have made a difference. It’s hard to tell since everything was swapped so we can’t really say any one swap us or isn’t worth it.
Hi Shola! We haven’t tested individual ingredient experiments yet, but it’s definitely something we’d love to experiment with further someday!
Thanks for that great article on comparisons. I have found that as I have baked more, I have become a little bit of a butter snob. I tend to only use Challenge or Land o. lakes, and will stock up on it when it goes on sale (30 -40 at a time). I also tend to like guittard chocolate chips the best and every time I make the bakery style cookies, I get so many compliments. Thank you again for sharing all of your tips and tricks so that the rest of us can become great bakers!!
I use Kerrygold unsalted butter and find it to be perfect for baking and extremely high quality. I would imagine that the butter would be one of the biggest factors in performance and taste. Generally I only use great quality organic ingredients which do cost more, but I don’t bake every day or every week so it’s a treat and you want the time and ingredients invested to be great. Thank you for doing this comparison!
I have found there is definitely a difference in brown sugar and taste. I now use only muscovado brown sugars. You can see the dark is darker than what you buy in store and taste better. For butter I buy Challenge Butter for baking and for Shortbread KerryGold butter. I have been a homebaker for over 50 years and have tried many products. I now know what I like, what works and taste the best. Look for sales, stock up freeze what you can. I also use King Arthur Flour and freeze it. White sugar must be Pure Cane not beet sugar.
Thanks for another great article Tessa.
I found a big difference in using Great Value (Walmart) brand granulated sugar verses Domino Sugar. in the Domino sugar, i noticed the sugar granules are larger & more consistent. The Great Value sugar was more fine & had a lot of variation in size. When I can, I prefer to buy the Domino sugar verses store brand. It makes my baking more consistent.
That’s a great note, Amy!
I use a specific Mexican vanilla in all my baking and find it makes a big difference in taste over less expensive, grocery store brands. I have not experimented using other, better quality ingredients, but your post has me wondering now.
Im turning into a vanilla snob and would love to know what brand of vanilla you buy. Lately I’ve been using Morton and Bassett as I like the rich vanilla flavor it has. I’ve tried the bourbon vanilla from Trader Joe’s but didn’t like the strong caramel like flavor it imparts.
I buy Totonocs Pure Mexican vanilla. I bought my first bottle while on vacation in Mexico, but have since found it on Amazon.