What is Unique About Belgian Chocolate?

Michael Pollick

When it comes to chocolates, there are the everyday candy bars we consume every day, the more exotic Godiva or Ghirardelli-style chocolates found in coffee houses and specialty stores, and then there is Belgian chocolate. This chocolate is considered to be the gourmet standard by which all other chocolate confections are measured. Even the Swiss, known for their own high quality chocolate, imported the basic recipe from French and Belgian chocolatiers.

Chocolate truffles with the characteristic outside shell and creamy inside of Belgian chocolate pralines.
Chocolate truffles with the characteristic outside shell and creamy inside of Belgian chocolate pralines.

What makes Belgian chocolate unique is the quality of ingredients and an almost fanatical adherence to Old World manufacturing techniques. Even in today's world of automation and mass production, most of the chocolate is still made by hand in small shops using original equipment. In fact, these small chocolate outlets are a popular draw for tourists visiting Belgium today. Much like wineries, tours of chocolate shops in Belgium include tastings and exclusive souvenirs.

Belgian chocolates with very detailed shells.
Belgian chocolates with very detailed shells.

Belgian chocolate itself has been popular since the 18th century, but a new process created by Jean Neuhaus in 1912 increased its popularity ten-fold. Neuhaus used a special version of chocolate called "couverture" as a cold shell for what he called 'pralines'. These pralines are not the same as the sugary treats offered in American candy shops. Belgian pralines could be filled with a variety of flavored nougats or creams, such as coffee, hazelnut, fruit or more chocolate. Few other chocolatiers in Neuhaus' day could duplicate the complex flavors of his pralines. Many of the Belgian chocolate praline companies are still in operation today- Leonidas, Neuhaus, Godiva and Nirvana are famous for their gourmet pralines.

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Anyone outside Belgium can call their product Belgian chocolate, but the ingredients used to make chocolate inside Belgium are partially dictated by the government.
Anyone outside Belgium can call their product Belgian chocolate, but the ingredients used to make chocolate inside Belgium are partially dictated by the government.

One technical advantage Belgian chocolate has over other chocolatiers is the storage of couverture before use. In the chocolate making process, the cocoa beans are ground and mixed with sugar and cocoa butter and then smoothed out through tempering (careful addition of heat). Most chocolate companies receive their chocolate in solid form, which means it must be reheated in order to be usable. Belgian companies often receive their couverture in heated tanker trucks soon after the tempering process. Because the chocolate has not cooled, it retains much more of the aroma than the cooled varieties.

Cocoa butter is used in Belgian chocolate.
Cocoa butter is used in Belgian chocolate.

Belgian chocolate may be expensive, but those who have sampled it say that there is no comparison between a standard chocolate bar and a Belgian praline. As a gift or special indulgence, this is one product which lives up to its reputation for quality.

Chocolate consists of ground up cocoa beans mixed with cocoa butter and sugar.
Chocolate consists of ground up cocoa beans mixed with cocoa butter and sugar.

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Discussion Comments


Unfortunately, Neuhaus has departed from the old-world traditions and is now corrupting its product with ingredients like vegeteble fat, glycerol, "flavors," soy lecithin, and citric acid (probably derived from black mold). Knowing my love for good chocolate, my friend brought me a box of Neuhaus truffles back from her recent trip to Belgium. I was thoroughly disappointed in the ingredients and in the overall texture and taste.


I don’t even know what Belgian chocolate is. The only brand I can say I’ve tried is Guylian and this tasted like cheap cake covering, overly sweet and sugary.

I would like to taste some real stuff, though. I find Swiss chocolate pretty hard to beat (outside the UK of course), although any country can produce those high end expensive items, but you do get what you pay for.

Chocolate is a mood food for me. Depending on the mood depends which chocolate, so I so through a lot, so if there is this amazing chocolate I haven’t tasted yet, I look forward to it. I will try any brand from any country: American, Swiss, French, German, British, Italian. Not fussed, really. I’ll give it a go.


I am Belgian and I can tell you the difference in taste between Belgian chocolate and other chocolate. Belgian chocolate isn't as sweet as most other chocolates.


Belgian and Swiss chocolate all the way. Most of the Belgian sweets I eat mix dark, milk and white chocolate together, with a wide variety of textures and have a pleasant aftertaste that lingers longer than the flavor of gum lasts.

Nestle is too sweet and has a metallic aftertaste. Hershey's is too sweet and has the consistency of beeswax. They even have the gall to add milk to bittersweet chocolate and call it "dark." Dark chocolate should be crunchy and lactose free. Cadbury is no better than them.

After you get used to Mexican hot chocolate, cocoa just doesn't taste right without a little cardamom in it.


Mexican chocolatl (chocolate) is best.


I'm not a big chocolate eater, so I initially did not care to sample much chocolate on my last trip to Belgium, but chocolate shops are everywhere, so it was hard avoid! I can see (or taste, rather) why Belgian chocolates are so popular; the taste and texture are unparalleled. We bought pounds of it from Leonidas back to the states and our friends and family raved about it.


We tried a new brand, called Valentino, a Brussels chocolatier that offers all kind of Belgian creamy pralines in all different shapes and tastes. They deliver in cooled containers.


Belgian chocolate is very good indeed. But my ultimate reference is French chocolate, crafted by the best Maîtres Chocolatier. It's almost a tie though.


I would like to stress that certainly not every brand of Belgian chocolates is a high quality one. In fact, most tourists only ever come into contact with the lesser brands (Leonidas, Guylian and the like). If you want to taste pralines you'll never forget, you have to try the smaller brands like Frederic Blondeel or Goossens.


Those Belgian chocolate seashells are beautiful! I would buy them and set them on a shelf, if they weren't so tasty!

I love the creamy hazelnut filling, too. You can't find chocolates like these in regular department stores.

Those shells look like they have been stained with coffee. You can see details carved in areas of darker chocolate surrounded by golden highlights that look almost airbrushed.


I had the chance to buy Belgian chocolate pralines, but I didn't, because I thought they were like the pralines in the U.S. I've never heard of cream-filled chocolates being called pralines. If I had known that they had assorted fillings, I would have gotten them while I had the chance.


To all those poor sad souls who didn't realize that Belgium only makes the chocolate. Does Italy grow coffee? Of course not. It comes from Ethiopia. Chocolate, like coffee, is a collaboration of people's skills from all around the world, as long it comes to us through 'Fair trade' where everybody makes a profit without being exploited. It is a wonderful joy in life to have people from Belgium perfect the art of making the best chocolate on the planet.


Most US made chocolates taste horrible because of HFCS. Even if they contain sugar, they add the cheap corn syrup as well!

Imported (European, UK, Belgian and Swiss) have simpler ingredients: milk, cocoa and sugar.


I have had Belgian chocolate and American chocolate. American chocolate is just as good if not better! Belgian chocolate is not better.


All I know is that I like chocolate. Any kind, from anywhere.


I'm Australian, but I can say Belgian chocolate is sure yummy. Anyone heard of Tintin?


Being Belgian I would like to say that you're all wrong. Sorry, folks.

There are two major kinds of Belgian chocolate.

The normal chocolate which comes in different forms, like bars or chunks, or whatever form they can be put in - and the Belgian pralines, which is what I suspect is what you mean by 'Belgian chocolate'.

Leonidas would be famous, but I can tell you, if you want the best, go to the small brands. For standard bars and for melting chocolate (ice cream topping), you should look for respectively 'Côte d'Or' (which means 'gold coast. (I think this means Africa as the beans are imported from there) and for 'Callebaut'. Have a nice chocolate tasting!


Anon73467 is absolutely right. I am not Belgian but the best confections I ever put in my mouth came from Belgium.The chocolate is simply amazing and on the streets of Antwerp, so extremely reasonably priced.

In the US, we leave the gross pieces in the candy box with the one bite taken out of the side. I have to say there are no gross Belgian chocolates. You can literally eat the entire box. I gladly threw away clothes in order to fit the Christmas chocolates I bought as gifts in my suitcase. I have been trying to find something that comes close since the first time I tasted it in 2001. It's almost like a drug, only way better. Chocolate in its finest form. Belgium should be proud.


Cocoa comes originally from Mexico, then it was brought to Africa.


got a pound of belcolade chips this morning and finished it in under three hours. the fact that it's handmade makes you have the best plain chocolate experience. you can really taste the real flavor of sweet with mild bitterness and aromatics of chocolate.


As a African, this articles proves what everyone knows, Europeans are cunning thieves. 85 percent of Chocolate beans come from Africa. belgian chocolate doesn't exist.


well, I'm proud to be Belgian and I personally think that our chocolate is the best. and that's the reason the prices are higher --all is hand made.


Of course cacao trees don't grow in Belgium. Europe is way too cold to produce cacao.

The original cacao beans came from Congo, a former colony of Belgium. From there, they processed and refined the recipe in Belgium, by indeed, Neuhaus.


@ anon57858: The story behind those fruits of the sea chocolates: There's a chocolate company called Guylain who started making chocolate shaped as sea shells, fruit, etc.

The reason for these shapes was that chocolatier Guy Foubert thought it was time for something new; so I guess he just chose a shape he liked. And because of the popularity of those shapes it now is a kind of trademark of the Guylian company.


I would like to know the story behind the reason why Belgian chocolate is usually shaped like "Fruit of the sea". I love the taste, but it gives me mixed feelings when I´m putting a chocolate squid in my mouth.


I was told that Belgium doesn't produce cacao that they only process it. Most of their coco beans comes from Africa. I always thought that when someone said Belgian chocolate they meant the cacao trees were in Belgium.


I have a chocolate fountain company and we use both Belgian and Belgian-Style Chocolate. I think there is a difference when it comes to hand made pralines, but as far as we can tell, the only difference in fountain chocolate is the price :-). They both are delicious, but we don't like paying extra for essentially the same ingredients.


I think another really big difference between Belgian and chocolate made for a wider market in the US is the percentage of cocoa per volume. I think Hershey's, etc. are mostly milk and sugar, compared to Belgian and other high-end chocolates

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