Belgian chocolate (French: chocolat belge, Dutch: belgische chocolade) refers to chocolate produced in Belgium. While cacao beans and other ingredients such as sugar can originate from outside of Belgium, the actual production of the chocolate must take place in the country. Belgian chocolate is internationally known, and dates from as early as the 17th century. It also forms an important part of the Belgian economy.
Belgium's association with chocolate goes back as far as 1635 when the country was under Spanish occupation. By the mid 18th century, chocolate was extremely popular in upper and middle class circles, particularly in the form of hot chocolate. Among them was Charles-Alexander of Lorraine, the Austrian governor of the territory. From the early 20th century, the country was able to import large quantities of cocoa from its African colony, the Belgian Congo. Both the chocolate bar and praline are inventions of the Belgian chocolate industry.
The composition of Belgian chocolate has been regulated by law since 1884. In order to prevent adulteration of the chocolate with low-quality fats from other sources, a minimum level of 35% pure cocoa was imposed. Adherence to traditional manufacturing techniques also serves to increase the quality of Belgian chocolate. In particular, vegetable-based fats are not used. Many firms produce chocolates by hand, which is laborious and explains the prevalence of small, independent chocolate outlets, which are popular with tourists. Famous chocolate companies, like Neuhaus and Guylian, strictly follow traditional (and sometimes secret) recipes for their products.
Pralines, sometimes known as "chocolate bonbons" in English-speaking countries, are chocolate pieces filled with a soft centre. They were first introduced by Jean Neuhaus II, a Belgian chocolatier, in 1912.
There have always been many forms and shapes in pralines. They nearly always contain a hard chocolate shell with a softer (sometimes liquid) filling. Confusion can arise over the use of the word praline in Belgium as it may refer to filled chocolates in general known as pralines, and it may also refer to a traditional praline filling common in Europe (caramelised hazelnuts ground into a paste) known as praliné. Belgian pralines are not limited to the traditional praliné filling and can include butter, liquor, nuts, marzipan, or even a chocolate blend that contrasts with the hard outer shell. They are often sold in stylised boxes in the form of a gift box.
Chocolate plays an important part in the Belgian economy, and there are over 2,000 chocolatiers in the country, both small and large. Today, chocolate is very popular in Belgium, with 172,000 tonnes produced each year, and widely exported. Côte d'Or is probably the largest commercial brand, with their products available in virtually every grocery store in the country. The largest manufacturers of fine chocolates are Neuhaus, Godiva, Leonidas, and Guylian.
Seafood pralines (pralines shaped like sea shells or fish) are popular with tourists and are sold all over Belgium.
- Savage, Maddy (31 December 2012). "Is Belgium still the capital of chocolate?". BBC. Retrieved 14 February 2013.
- Mercier, Jacques (2008). The Temptation of Chocolate. Brussels: Lannoo. p. 87. ISBN 2873865334.
- Mercier, Jacques (2008). The Temptation of Chocolate. Brussels: Lannoo. p. 101. ISBN 2873865334.
- Mercier, Jacques (2008). The Temptation of Chocolate. Brussels: Lannoo. p. 94. ISBN 2873865334.
- Amy M. Thomas (December 22, 2011). "Brussels: The Chocolate Trail". New York Times. Retrieved 2011-12-25. "Ever since the Brussels chocolatier Jean Neuhaus invented the praline 100 years ago, the city has been at the forefront of the chocolate business. ... They are breaking away from traditional pralines—which Belgians classify as any chocolate shell filled with a soft fondant center..."
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Chocolate of Belgium.|
- The Insider's Guide to Belgian Chocolate at Travel Hoppers