Published on June 6th, 2019
For a small country, Belgium makes, consumes and exports a lot of chocolate. However it’s not the quantity, but the quality for which Belgian chocolate is considered to be the finest in the world.
A single bite of any of the various types and flavors, from a classic salted caramel praline to organic fair-traded dark chocolate chips will convince you that Belgian chocolate passes the taste test with flying colors. It’s rich, smooth and buttery, and complements a wide range of fillings and flavors.
There are quite a few reasons why Belgian chocolate tastes so good. Fist of all, it’s the law. The entire chocolate-making process in Belgium is strictly regulated and monitored for quality control.
Then there’s the training that Belgian chocolatiers receive, and also their creativity. For example, pralines or harder shell chocolates that could hold all kinds of filings were invented in Belgium. And finally, there’s the love of chocolate that shows in every piece of chocolate made in the small country.
1. Strict Quality Controls
The Belgian connection to chocolate goes back four hundred years, when chocolate from the New World was first introduced to Europe. Since that early start, Belgian chocolate making has been strictly controlled at every stage of the process, from roasting the beans to refining, blending and conchong or tempering. Many chocolate makers retain older, artisanal methods of making chocolate by hand, which sets the taste apart.
To begin with, Belgian chocolatiers roast their own beans instated of sourcing them like other chocolate makers. Then the chocolates are conched for a longer time, which makes the end product smoother.
This is the heart of the chcolate-making process, where it gets its “mouthfeel”. Many Belgian manufacturers have the couverture transported in melted form, rather than solid. This allows it to retain the flavor, which can be lost in reheating the solid chocolates.
Chocolates are packed immediately after production, to preserve the flavors. By law, Belgian chocolates have a high cocoa powder content of around 43%, as compared to the 20% found in chocolates made in the UK and US.
Also by law, the name “chocolate” can only be used for products that contain cocoa butter, cocoa solids, sugar and milk. This means that unlike others, Belgian chocolate makers don’t replace cocoa butter with other types of vegetable fats.
Strict quality controls ensure that any chocolate that is entitled to call itself “Belgian” has been produced according to the highest standards and with the best ingredients.
Belgian chocolatiers undergo training within the industry, which contributes to maintaining a high standard. They are also much in demand for training chocolate makers in other parts of the world.
2. The Taste Test
The careful process and quality controls all contribute to a unique taste. Not only is Belgian chocolate smoother than its Swiss counterparts, it’s also very suitable for making pralines and bonbons and for combining with other flavors. Pralines, also known as bonbons and Belgian chocolate fondants, were invented in Belgium by a Swiss chocolate maker, Jacob Neuhaus II in 1912.
Belgian pralines are soft- centered chocolates with varied fillings such as marzipan, salted caramel, nuts, coffee, spirits and liqueurs, cherries or different chocolate blends. Fillings also include nougats or creams, with flavors like coffee, hazelnut and various fruit and berries. Pralines are characteristic of Belgian chocolates, from the delicate shell shapes of Mary Chocolatier to the varied flavors from Godiva.
How do Belgian chocolates compare to Swiss and French ones? If pralines and bonbons are their signature style, French chocolates are typically darker and less sweet, while milk chocolates are a typical Swiss product. Belgian chocolates have a smooth and buttery taste that puts them in the gourmet category.
3. Leading Belgian Chocolate Manufacturers
As we said before, for a small country Belgium makes a lot of chocolate. The numbers tell their own tale. There are about four hundred chocolate manufacturers in the country, producing 200,000 tons of chocolate products every year. There are 2,000 shops entirely dedicated to selling chocolates.
Belgians consume a lot of the chocolate they produce, as do tourists visiting the country. Fortunately for the rest of the world, there’s plenty left for export. In fact, Belgium is the second largest exporter of chocolate in the world, ahead of Switzerland. Only Germany exports more chocolate.
Many Belgian chocolate makers are well known around the world, and names like Godiva, Côte d’Or, and Mary have come to stand for gourmet confections. They also have a long history, many going back a hundred years. Neuhaus is another famous Belgian chocolatier, founded by the apothecary who invented pralines. The houses of Whittamer, Galler and Leonidas combine a long tradition with new styles and tastes.
Zaäbar is known for its exotic flavors like spices, herbs, flowers, and fruits combined with rich chocolate, and Pierre Marcolini is known one of the best known chocolatiers worldwide. In keeping with contemporary preferences for organic and natural foods, Belvas chocolate is fairly traded, organic, gluten and sugar free.
With a number of famous brands, strict quality controls and highly trained and creative chocolatiers who take their craft very seriously, it’s no wonder that Belgian chocolates are considered to be the finest in the world. They’ve earned that tile.