A brief history of Belgian Chocolate

 05 March    Christophe Hardy,
Blog chocolate

You can travel around the world and ask people what comes to mind when you mention Belgium.

In most cases, the answer will be: chocolate – surprisingly or not. But when and how did Belgium become synonymous for top-quality chocolate? The history of Belgian chocolate reaches back as far as the 17th century, when the country was ruled by the Spanish, whose explorers had brought cocoa back from South America. At the time, cocoa was enjoyed as a luxury drink for the royals, nobility and artists who visited the royal courts in Brussels.

Interestingly, the story of Swiss chocolate can also be traced back to Brussels. In the late 17th century, Henri Escher, the mayor of Zurich, visited Brussels and fell in love with the cocoa drinks he was served. He was so over the moon that he introduced the idea to Switzerland. Three centuries later, Switzerland remains Belgium’s main competitor when it comes to chocolate.

In the centuries that followed, chocolate became increasingly popular amongst a wide public, but it took until the second half of the 19th century for Belgium to truly indulge in its passion for chocolate. Under the rule of King Leopold II, Belgium colonised Congo, where it found its own unlimited cocoa supply. This put Belgium right at the heart of the cocoa trade. Back in Belgium, in 1857, Jean Neuhaus (funnily enough of Swiss origin) had opened a pharmaceutical sweets shop in Brussels, where he also sold bars of bitter chocolate. The first chocolate shop was born. Some 60 years later, it was Neuhaus’ grandson who invented the praline when creating an empty chocolate shell with a sweet filling.

So, what makes Belgian chocolate so special, so very delicious and in a league of its own? The secret is two-fold: ingredients and process. Of course, the origin and orientation of the cacao plantation, as well as the roasting of the beans all help to determine the flavour. But the main reason for the pure and full cocoa flavour is the fact that no vegetable shortening is used. Belgian chocolate traditionally mixes cocoa paste, sugar and cocoa butter in varying proportions. Dark Belgian chocolate uses the most cocoa; milk chocolate mixes in milk; and white chocolate is made be extracting only the butter from the cocoa. On the other hand, there is the process, which to date is steeped in tradition and craftsmanship, and still holds a hint of secrecy.

At Puratos, we continue Belgium’s great chocolate tradition with our Belcolade Real Belgian Chocolate, a wide range of chocolate products of exceptional quality and taste. Discover more at http://www.belcolade.be/

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