About Belgium Chocolate
Belgian chocolate has been a European delicacy for hundreds of years. In that time it has been given as a gift between lovers awarded to champions and today, is as popular as ever, still holding a very special place in the hearts of Europeans. Belgium produces 172,000 tons of chocolate per year and has more than 2,000 chocolate shops throughout the country.
Belgian pralines feature a sculpted chocolate shell in which lies any one of many textures and flavours. Many Belgian chocolatiers still make their pralines by hand and pretty much every town has a chocolate store. Even small villages have chocolate stores selling luxurious pralines.
History of Belgian ChocolateIt is said that Henri Escher, Mayor of Zurich, drank his first cup of chocolate on the Grand Place in Brussels. Being so impressed with its flavour, he exported the recipe to Switzerland.Despite the fact that cocoa beans were first taken to Spain by the conquistador Don Cortes in 1528, it wasn’t until the 19th Century that chocolate started to be manufactured on a large scale in Belgium. In 1840, the Berwaerts Company started to sell chocolate pastilles and figurines. By the 20th Century there were 50 established chocolate makers in Belgium.
In 1912, the Belgian chocolatier Jean Neuhaus invented the first hard chocolate shell, or couverture, which enabled chocolatiers to experiment with developing chocolates with a smooth, creamy filling. Before long, Belgian chocolates contained fillings of nearly any consistency, including cream, caramel, ganache and creamy whipped praline.
From there, the Belgians soon began to experiment with different flavours and liquors, using ingredients such as Cointreau, coffee, chocolate and vanilla to make fillings. Following this, the term ‘praline’ became almost synonymous with Belgian chocolate. This made Belgium famous for producing chocolate with intricate sophisticated flavours and heavenly textures.
Belgian Chocolate Around the WorldBelgian chocolate is currently one of the most sought after types of chocolate in the world. The biggest consumers of Belgian chocolate include its European neighbours France, Germany and Great Britain. The high-quality cocoa beans used to make Belgian chocolate normally come from Africa. Most chocolate makers in Belgium make their chocolate by hand rather than by using a machine, and take pride in its form and decoration.
How to Identify a Belgian ChocolateBecause Belgian chocolates are so famous and well loved across the world, there are many poor imitations also available. To ensure you have the best Belgian chocolate in your hand, follow these simple tips:
- Even good quality beans will taste bad if they are not processed properly. Check for a gritty texture (caused by the beans not being broken down properly). Skillfully made chocolate will have a smooth, silky texture.
- Place the chocolate on your tongue, before slowly moving it around your mouth. The flavour of a well-made chocolate will develop gradually and linger for a while.
- Ensure the flavours are well balanced, and that the sweetness, bitterness or sharpness of the chocolate is not overpowering.
- Poor quality chocolate may smell smoky or rubbery; this suggests problems at the fermentation stage of the chocolate-making process.