Holland & Barrett is one of Europe's leading health food retailers (and also the largest). Its focus on wellness and its aim to bring to specialist products to a wider market has made it a household name. For some of us, its products are overpriced, arcane, or even plain bizarre. For others, Holland & Barrett is a godsend, granting local access to free from, vegan, and a range of allergen-free products that provide suitable options to those who would otherwise miss out.

As someone who visits Holland & Barrett for the occasional essential oil, I decided to sample a selection of its chocolate bars to see if the health store had any pick-me-up products that could appeal to the average student. Despite a disappointingly small selection in my local store (rivalled, however, by an extensive range of online choices), I chose five chocolate bars to put to the test, and ranked them from worst to best.

5) So free Cool Mint Dark Chocolate

Rebecca Salter

Made by Plamil, this deceptively appealing chocolate bar comes in at last place. Like many of Plamil's treats, this bar is vegan with no added sugar or nuts. It also has the bonus of being gluten-free. Sadly, these were the only perks for me. As I opened the wrapper, I was struck by an overwhelming mint aroma—far stronger than your average After Eight. It also had a strong taste to match. This chocolate was not only incredibly bitter at 72% cocoa, but was also far too strong to be palatable. As someone who loves mint, I was surprised by this chocolate's medicinal quality, and the lack of sweetness did not work in its favour.

4) Plamil Milk Chocolate Alternative

Rebecca Salter

If I was ranking solely on visuals, this bar would be at number 1. Bound to be the envy of your Dairy Milk-loving friends, this bar (like its 'So free' companion) is beautifully decorated with organic patterns and uneven square segments. This is another milk chocolate alternative, being both vegan and gluten-free with no nuts and 45% cocoa. While a lot lighter on the palate, what distinguishes this bar is its floury texture, which, for me, was far too overpowering to be enjoyable. 

3) Moo-Free Organic Milk Chocolate Alternative

Rebecca Salter

This chocolate alternative was the first vegan bar I sampled from this list. After trying a disappointing rice chocolate alternative on a whim, I was on guard against the brand's cute but potentially deceitful mascot. Upon opening the bar, I was hit with a sweet and recognisable chocolate scent that could've easily passed for its dairy original. Being gluten-free, and also soya-free, this award-winning bar had a lot to live up to.

Its taste was surprisingly pleasant, and as someone who is used to sickly Galaxy bars, I wasn't left with an unwelcome aftertaste. In fact, the bar was sweet enough to leave me satisfied, which, if I ate it on the regular, would probably prevent my over-snacking. While Holland & Barrett is often scorned for its prices, this bar would likely last a lot longer than the mainstream alternatives, as its composition of sugar, rice, and cocoa, leaves you satiated after only a few bites.

2) Balance—Belgian Chocolate Dark

Rebecca Salter

Expectedly, the non-vegan bars on this list ranked higher for me, solely because I'm used to the rich taste of milk-based chocolate. This Belgian chocolate bar caught my eye immediately as its taste is one that cannot be easily substituted. The added stevia also piqued my interest as a sugar substitute that is dominating the media and fuelling debates about its potential benefits. What I noticed first was the bar's smooth texture, in contrast to the others on this list. Its smell was distinctively that of dark Belgian chocolate and its taste was not dissimilar to Bournville. It was incredibly dense, like most dark chocolates, and while the stevia didn't make any marked difference based on my sampling, the chocolate was undoubtedly nice and great for any lover of the higher cocoa percentage.

1) Balance—Belgian Chocolate Milk

Rebecca Salter

It will likely come as no surprise that, as a milk-based chocolate consumer, this bar is at the top. Based on a small selection of the chocolate my Holland & Barrett has to offer, Balance's Milk Chocolate version is my personal favourite. It has the benefits of no added sugar and a high fibre content, and its smooth texture and rich taste marks this bar as unmistakably Belgian. While one downfall of this bar is its lack of a sweet aftertaste, I still found it by far the most moreish on this list, and I easily finished the whole bar in one sitting.

All in all, my brief taste of the world of Holland & Barrett's chocolates was eye-opening. As a local stop for all things gluten-free, allergen-free, and vegan, this place already ranks highly in my mind. As a chocolate lover, I may not fully appreciate this alternative side of the chocolate market but I know that in future, and with the growing popularity of brands such as Doisy & Dam, this once-intimidating health food store will no longer be one that I shy away from.