From waffles and beer to frîtes with mayonnaise, Belgium tends to have a reputation for its delicious culinary specialties. But perhaps the most well known food of all to emerge from this tiny country is chocolate!

Recognized the world over as the finest chocolate available, Belgian chocolate tells a story of craftsmanship, tradition and excellent ingredients.

The history of chocolate making in Belgium stretches back to the 17th century, when Spanish explorers introduced cacao to Europe from their South American travels. Traditionally consumed as a drink by ancient Mayans and Aztecs, this custom soon became a luxury exclusive to Spanish nobility, who ruled Belgium at the time.

Cacao

Interestingly, in a 1697 visit to Brussels, Henri Escher, the mayor of Zurich, tried this chocolatey beverage and was so impressed that he brought the idea back to Switzerland. Several hundred years later, Switzerland is Belgium’s main competition in the realm of chocolate!

However, it wasn’t until Belgium’s King Leopold II colonized the Congo in the 19th century, that chocolate became more available to the general public. This not-so-sweet intervention gave Belgium direct access to high quality cacao trees, spurring the now deep culinary tradition.

Today, Belgian chocolate is distinguished by its artisanal, old world processing techniques and high quality standards. While the European Union allows chocolatiers to replace up to 5% of their cocoa butter with various vegetable fats,  Belgian chocolatiers pride themselves on using 100% cocoa butter, which enhances smoothness and flavor of the chocolate.