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Chocolate - The Bitter Sweet History of Belgian Chocolate!
How It All Began
It was in the year 1885, during the reign of King Leopold II, that the country of Congo the gateway to cocoa plantations was colonized by Belgium. King Leopold II was a brutal man one of the early Europeans to commit genocide in the 20th Century. It is claimed that he massacred around 10 million Congolese in the Congo Free State (Now known as the ‘Democratic Republic of Congo’).
King Leopold II at the expense of Congolese lives, mutilations, beatings and suffering began to import the cocoa beans harvested from the plantations, and so began the Belgian chocolate industry.
The chocolate industry began to flourish in the 1880’s as a result of the Belgian Congo enabling easy access to the cocoa fields of Africa. But, in reality it is very difficult to imagine that the history of the luxurious Belgian Chocolates’ that we love and adore today developed as a result of a very bloody and bitter sweet past.
Chocolate Praline & Truffles
From the early 1880s the Belgians started to produce fine, gourmet chocolates and presented to the world products such as praline, pastilles and figurines. They were created by a technique originally used by the Swiss, a method which was later developed into their own unique Belgian chocolate making process. Jean Neuhas the noted chocolatier is credited with making the first hard chocolate shell and creating the chocolate sensation known as the truffle. The praline a small butter cream chocolate filled either with nuts or cream was also first made in Belgium.
Jean Neuhas and his wife Louise were canny marketers and once again made history, when in 1912, they started presenting chocolates as gifts. They made exquisitely designed pralines and figurines and packaged them in a Ballotin, (a small, elegant box) which was made with small compartments to house the chocolates, thereby protecting them from damage. This creative couple developed and patented the ballotin which is now the standard box used today by all chocolatiers.
Today pralines and truffles are synonymous with the famous name of Neuhas and Belgian chocolate. We owe it all to him when we present a box of chocolates as a gift for birthdays, anniversaries, celebrated holidays and in particular Valentine’s Day.
The Making of Belgian Chocolate
All chocolates start with the beans from the cocoa tree, which bears large round shaped pods that contain the beans. The pods are gathered and the beans are harvested, dried in the sun and roasted. After the beans are roasted, they are pulverised to produce the cocoa powder, and then compressed to extract the cocoa butter.
To create chocolate the powder is mixed with butter, milk powder and sugar. The quantity of each ingredient of the mixture determines the color of the chocolate. Therefore, creating diverse blends of chocolate such as dark chocolate that is usually made up of up to seventy per-cent cocoa; and milk chocolate which contains more milk powder, and white chocolate which does not contain cocoa but is a mixture of cocoa butter milk and sugar are made.
Belgian Chocolate Trivia
- Did you know nearly all the pralines were made by hand 150 years ago?
- Chocolate is considered an energy giving food because of its high content of sugar and calories.
- It is also considered to be a sexual stimulant due the effects of two chemicals that it contains. Trytophan which is a building block of serotonin, a brain chemical that stimulates sexual arousal, and phenylethylamine, a chemical that is released in the brain when people fall in love.
- In fact it is recorded that the Aztec Emperor Montezuma drank copious amounts of chocolate to boost his sexual prowess.
- It is also known to be an anti-depressant. This is probably because of the substance known as “phenylethylamine” which has a positive effect on a depressive state, when one is feeling down or a little low in spirit.