Belgian chocolate, a mouth-watering experience...


Belgian chocolate may be best, but it was not first

Cocoa was probably first used by the Olmecs, a people living in the East-Mexican lowlands from 1300-400 BC.  More recent historic records show that the Mayas and Aztecs drank chocolate, but it was not something that most of us would have enjoyed: it was bitter, being based on roasted kernels seeds of cocoa blended with spices.  The Mayas gave it its name: xocolati, or 'God Food'.  The Aztecs considered the drink so sacred that only rich people could afford it.  Lesser mortals had to wait for the special ceremonies.  Cocoa seeds were so valuable that they were frequently used as currency.  It is said that when the Spanish conquistadors seized the great Aztec Emperor Montezuma's palace they found large piles of cocoa beans instead of gold and silver.
In the early 16th century the Spanish began to experiment with the drink, adding sugar and vanilla to make it more palatable for European taste buds.  It soon became popular and found its way to the rest of western Europe.  By 1520 it had arrived in England.  The Quakers started to add chocolate to their cakes and looked for various techniques for making chocolate.  In 1847 the first solid chocolate bar was made.
Cocoa comes from the cocoa tree which grows mainly in Brazil, parts of West Africa, and Malaysia.

So, what's Belgium got to do with it then?

The country benefits from a high concentration of highly-skilled chocolatiers, who make almost all their chocolate by hand and also put a lot of work in the filling and the decoration.  They will only use the finest cocoa.
In Belgium you will undoubtedly come across pralines, a filled chocolate mouthful perfect as a gift and created for that specific purpose by Belgian confectionary.  They are put in specially patented packaging called ballotin.


What is good chocolate?

Colour is not always a good indicator of quality.  A darker colour may mean richer but not necessarily better chocolate.  Look out for following telltale signs of good chocolate :

bulletthe texture should be silky smooth;
bulletthe taste will gradually hit you and then linger for a while, and not disappear quickly;
bulletthe smell should not be rubbery (due to cocoa fermentation problems) or smoky (if beans have dried too quickly).


The different types of chocolate

Milk chocolate: is a creamy, sweet variety of chocolate with more sugar, milk, vanilla and cocoa.  A good-quality milk chocolate bar should contain a minimum of 30% cocoa solids.
White chocolate: is made from cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids, but does not contain any actual cocoa liquor.
Dark (or plain) chocolate: does not contain milk solids, just cocoa liquor and cocoa butter.  A good-quality dark chocolate bar should contain a minimum of 50% cocoa solids.  It is the healthiest of the three chocolates.

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