Saturday, September 05, 2020

History of Belgian chocolate

Belgium is associated with high-quality chocolate products such as pralines and truffles, with brand names such as Godiva, Neuhaus and Leonidas recognized globally.

The history of Belgian chocolate reaches back to the 17th century, when Spanish explorers brought cocoa beans from South America. The Spanish nobility, who then ruled Belgium, enjoyed cocoa as a luxury drink. However, chocolate did not gain popularity with the general public until the second half of the 19th century, when Belgian King Leopold II colonized the Congo.

The first signs of chocolate trading in Belgium in 1635 in Ghent when the abbot of Baudeloo Abbey bought chocolate. Chocolate making was then mostly a sideline of pharmacists who sold it as a tonic.

While exports grew significantly between 1900 and 1930, Belgium was still importing more chocolate than it exported for much of this period. It was only since the 1960s that Belgian exports dominated imports. However, the success has grown rapidly in recent decades.

In 1840, Belgian chocolate maker Berwaerts sold the first pressed chocolate tablets, pastilles and figurines. It was around this time that several chocolate makers were founded that grew into large companies.

In 1857, Jean Neuhaus opened a pharmacy in Brussels, Belgium, where, among more traditional remedies, he sold bars of bitter chocolate. Eventually, the bars became so popular that Neuhaus focused his efforts on chocolate making. In 1912, Neuhaus’ grandson, Jean II, invented the now-famous Belgian praline by filling hard chocolate shells with soft cream or nut pastes.

In 1915, Louise Agostini, wife of Jean Neuhaus Jr, developed the first ‘ballotin’, a box in which pralines were packed.

The 20th century would mark the beginning of Belgium's status as a nation of elite innovators and manufacturers in the chocolate world.

Another important development was the introduction of the Belgian chocolate bar “batton” by Kwatta in 1920. Reducing the size of chocolate bars to 30g and 45g and making them into tablet shape further contributed to making chocolate an affordable snack. Chocolate spread was first sold by Cote d'Or in 1952. This delicious innovation rapidly gained popularity throughout the world between 1952 and 1958, as Cote d'Or featured this product as it's latest and greatest addition at the 1958 World's Fair in Brussels.

The Belgian chocolate sector boom started with the 1958 World Expo in Brussels. A major campaign was launched by both the government and the industry to boost Belgian chocolate worldwide.

Today, the Neuhaus company continues to manufacture Belgian pralines (known as bonbons elsewhere in the world), joined by other large manufacturers such as Godiva, Leonidas, and Guylian.
History of Belgian chocolate