According to the International Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate, the tradition of making artisanal chocolate was introduced into Eastern Europe in the early 17t century. Since the very beginning of early chocolate making, Belgium chocolate has widely been renowned as being the highest quality chocolate in the world. Their claim to this fame is because of the long history of their bean cultivation. The same strain of beans used in traditional Belgium chocolates more than 200 years ago are still developed and grown today. This is why Belgium chocolate is easily regarded as the highest quality chocolate in the world.
When the Belgium army took military control of parts of the northern African Congo they immediately began harvesting the area for indigenous crops, goods and raw materials. The cocoa bean was discovered basically by accident. Originally the Belgiums thought that the cocoa bean was simply another variety of coffee. The beans do look quite similar to the untrained eye. The Belgium’s found that by steeping this African bean like traditional coffee beans, it had a different flavor and effect than any other strain of beans they had. Eventually the beans were steeped in milk then thickened and solid chocolate was born. In early 1913, a local Brussels chocolatier named Jean Neuhaus made the first “praline” — he mixed couverture, a thick coating chocolate, with a variety of nuts, fruits, creams and other fillings. (This type of praline should not be confused with pralines in the US South, particularly Louisiana, which are a pecan and caramel candy.) Neuhaus’ wife invented the praline package they called the ballotin, and their business began to prosper
Touring today’s various chocolate houses of Belgium is an adventure into decadence. Belgium makes and uses more high-quality chocolate than any other country in the world because of the long tradition of harvesting heirloom variety cocoa beans. There are over 17,000 chocolate shops in Belgium and the surrounding countryside so travelers are advised to pack their sweet tooth!
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