Belgian Chocolate History
Belgian chocolate is thought, in many quarters, to be the finest in the world. Belgians got intensely involved in chocolate manufacture in the late 1800s. During Europe's imperial period they attempted to colonize the Belgian Congo partly because the Congo was the perfect place for growing cocoa beans. Chocolate plantations spanned the region, and industrious chocolatiers worked hard to take advantage of their access to this resource.
In the course of the history of chocolate the Congo episode was a dark period. The king of Belgium, Leopold II, ruthlessly exploited the country, enslaving large parts of the population. Much of the resources of the land went into the production of cacao plants. The king was eventually forced to give up personal control of this domain to the Belgian government.
Partly because of their access to so much cocoa, the quality of Belgian chocolate in the late 1800s surpassed that of even the Swiss. (Jean's grandfather had actually immigrated to Belgium from Switzerland.) Jean Neuhaus founder of the Neuhaus brand was fond of experimentation in advancing his trade. He was aware of the famous praline, which first surfaced in France in 1500s as a sugar coated almond, but soon gave its name to any sweet that involved a coating around a nutty center. It was in 1912 that Jean Neuhaus hit upon the idea of making a hollow candy, molded from rich chocolate, and then injecting it full of a nutty or cream center. He naturally called his creation a chocolate praline.
To market the Belgian chocolate praline to the public a new type of container was invented in 1920 and patented with the help of Jean's wife Louise. They called the container the ballotin. It was the now familiar flat, rectangular box. It exuded the image of richness and quality that Neuhaus worked hard to maintain for his product.
In the early 1900s Belgian chocolate was mainly consumed by the upper classes. Nevertheless, the force of industrialization, technology, and open markets, brought the price of chocolate down, so that soon everyone could enjoy the rich treat. Today the names of Belgian chocolatiers are famous the world over. Some familiar names, Godiva, Nirvana, Dolfin, Cafe Tasse, Galler, Cote d'or (originally founded by Neuhaus), Gudrun, Cavalier, and of course, Neuhaus.
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