Belgium produces 220,000 tons of chocolate every year, which equals over 48 pounds of the sweet per person. The place that sells the most chocolate in the world? Brussels National Airport. And in Brussels alone, there are some 500 chocolatiers, which amounts to one chocolatier per every 2,000 people.
Why is Belgian chocolate so special? It all started in the seventeenth century, when cocoa beans from South America arrived in Belgium by way of Spanish explorers. Cocoa was claimed by the Spanish nobility ruling Belgium at the time as a luxury drink, and it reached the common man after Belgian king Leopold II colonized the region of the Congo in the late nineteenth century. Cocoa production in West Africa proved to be much more fruitful, and imports of raw cocoa began to make Belgium a center for chocolate production — the first chocolate bar was made there in 1840. Chocolate makers were inspired by Swiss techniques, but soon Belgian chocolate began to take on a unique flavor profile, topped off by chocolatier Jean Neuhaus’ invention of the chocolate-covered praline in 1912.
Things aren’t so different now — Belgium is still a global hub for chocolate production, and when someone returns from Belgium, one of the first questions friends might ask is how the chocolate was. Belgian chocolate companies sometimes receive chocolate imports from Africa in heated trunks which preserve the flavors better, and it’s said to have a higher cocoa content. Popular brands of Belgian chocolate include Neuhaus and Côte d'Or, which are both sold in over 50 countries. Try them for yourself and see if the obsession consumes you.