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Chocolate - The Bitter Sweet History of Belgian Chocolate!

Updated on February 3, 2012

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.


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    • editorsupremo profile image

      editorsupremo 5 years ago from London, England

      Thanks for your vote. It is sad but back in that time the Europeans were ruthless and exploited the African and Asian continents.

    • Naima Manal profile image

      Naima Manal 5 years ago from NY

      Unbelievable, yet this is the consistent pattern of any product harvested from non-European soil. Excellent hub! Voted UP!

    • editorsupremo profile image

      editorsupremo 5 years ago from London, England

      Thanks Angie for your comment.

    • angie ashbourne profile image

      angie ashbourne 5 years ago

      Hi! Awesome Hub! Angie

    • editorsupremo profile image

      editorsupremo 5 years ago from London, England

      Ethel, thanks for comment. It is indeed sickening the obscene brutality that the Congolese people suffered.

    • profile image

      Ethel Powers 5 years ago

      The cruelty continues. Belgian chocolate hands are still sold. I just watched Congo: White King, Red Rubber, Black Death. If any of you ever come across this documentary please watch it. It is sickening and it is where they showed the package of dark chocolate hands, little perfectly formed, dark, delicious hands representing the hands of the Congolese people that were cut off by order our King Leopold.

    • editorsupremo profile image

      editorsupremo 5 years ago from London, England

      I love chocolate too thumbi7, it's just a shame that so many lives were taken for us to enjoy the delicacies of chocolate.

    • thumbi7 profile image

      JR Krishna 5 years ago from India

      Very interesting history. I love chocolates. But sorry to hear about the painful past.

      Sharing this hub with friends here.

    • editorsupremo profile image

      editorsupremo 5 years ago from London, England

      You're welcome peti. Sadly the Congolese people still suffer from the injustices reigned on their forefathers in the 1800's.

    • peti profile image

      peti 5 years ago

      This is very interesting! Thank you for shedding light onto this issue that I'm sure effects the people of DRC even today.

    • editorsupremo profile image

      editorsupremo 5 years ago from London, England

      Hi pjpitts, I am also disturbed when I hear about the exploitation of people. When I did the research for this article I was apalled at the atrocities inflicted on the Congolese people just so that the Belgians could live in luxury.

    • pjpitts profile image

      pjpitts 5 years ago from United States

      very interesting, It always disturbs me to hear of exploitation of people, past and present!

    • editorsupremo profile image

      editorsupremo 5 years ago from London, England

      Thank goodness they days of the atrocities of Leopold II are over, but the Congolese people still do not benefit from the cocoa industry. The profits are largely in the hands of the private owners.

    • editorsupremo profile image

      editorsupremo 5 years ago from London, England

      Yes, rjsadowski they are delicious but also very expensive!

    • inaniLoquence profile image

      inaniLoquence 5 years ago from Singapore

      There's blood diamond, and now, the blood chocolate. It was interesting reading about the Belgian chocolates that I am not eating. I would love to know whether or not they've amended the system and now doing it in the legal (and humane) way.

    • rjsadowski profile image

      rjsadowski 5 years ago

      Interesting article. Who doesn't like Belgian chocolate? Ijust wish that i could afford it.