“We produce delicious Belgian chocolates.”
How many times have you heard these words?
Proud of their claim, many chocolatiers use Belgian Chocolates as their unique selling proposition. They consider it a badge of honor. It’s like they are making some kind of superior chocolates from the regular ones on the market. Like they follow a special recipe, or can guarantee a better quality and origin. Not even the renowned Swiss Chocolate has the same marketing power.
Belgian chocolates have gained the trust of chocoholics throughout history, and many consumers even believe them to be the best chocolates in the world. But what is the exact definition of Belgian Chocolates? And are they really worth the hype?
It all began in 1912. Up till that year, chocolates were made by hand-dipping firm centers like caramels, jellies and thick ganaches into the coverture. The shell of the chocolates was then very thin, allowing for low creativity in the filling that couldn’t be too liquid nor too delicate. Then Jean Neuhaus Jr. from Neuhaus Chocolates invented the praline.
For the first time in history, chocolates could be molded and filled, allowing for a larger size, a thicker chocolate shell and a heavier ganache. This encouraged the creativity of chocolatiers, that could start experimenting with fillings made with all kinds of ingredients. The praline was a revolutionary invention for the chocolate industry, and it gave Belgian chocolatiers a long-lasting fame for their new creations.
That same technique is now used by chocolatiers all over the world. The tempered chocolate is poured in plastic molds and the filling is added inside. Molding has become the most popular way to create chocolates.
If the Belgian invention is now a standard technique, then the peculiarity of Belgian chocolates on the current market can’t really be based on this definition. The praline was definitely a Belgian invention, but it can’t be a distinctive characteristic anymore. Otherwise, ALL chocolates with a hard shell should be referred to as Belgian chocolates. And where would the prestige be?
The peculiarity of Belgian chocolates must be found somewhere else outside the hard chocolate shell. There must be some kind of quality standard that distinguishes Belgian chocolate from the rest ….
Unfortunately, there is no legal standard for chocolate to be labelled “Belgian”. Chocolatiers can throw around the term as much as they want to without consequences. But a definition for Belgian Chocolate has been created by the CHOPRABISCO (the Belgian Royal Association for the Chocolate, Praline, Biscuits and Sugar Confectionery Industry).
After the abuse of the Belgian Chocolate denomination, the Belgian association wanted to define these words once and for all. Stipulated in 2008, the BELGIAN CHOCOLATE CODE defines:
“Belgian chocolate” as chocolate of which the complete process of mixing, refining and conching is done in Belgium.
And “Belgian products” as foods made in Belgium with Belgian chocolate as defined.
Based on this definition (the only one available anyway), Belgian chocolates are simply pralines made in Belgium. It is all a matter of geographical location. The “hard shell” characteristic is not even taken into consideration. As long as they are made inside the Belgian borders, any kind of chocolates are Belgian chocolates.
But even if made in Belgium, what would be the prestigious side of such pralines? Why would chocolate made in Belgium be more special than chocolate made anywhere else and need to be protected?
The CHOPRABISCO definition doesn’t include any objective standard for quality. It doesn’t mention any prestigious cacao variety to make Belgian chocolate. No artisanal techniques are involved either. Chocolatiers don’t need to possess any specific skills.
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In the Belgian Chocolate Code, its authors just assume that Belgian chocolatiers, because of their historic fame, use the finest ingredients on the market. And Belgian chocolate is the main fine ingredient they use. Therefore, they believe that Belgian Chocolate and Belgian Chocolates are definitions that should be protected.
Basically, the fame that Belgium acquired for its innovation in 1912 should now guarantee the quality of Belgian chocolates in modern times.
So much naiveness for 2017!
Too bad that also the vast majority of chocolate consumers thinks in the same way. They often enter a chocolate shop and inquire for Belgian chocolates or chocolate, thinking to be getting the best stuff on the market. A geographical indication is now naively mistaken for quality.
Like all wine in Italy would be worth its price tag. Like all French cheese was made using quality ingredients. Like all cacao from Ecuador was fine cacao.
As we saw, Belgian chocolates are not defined by any quality standard. Therefore, they shouldn’t hold a badge of honor by default. And consumers shouldn’t assume that these pralines are made with good chocolate or prestigious ingredients.
There are many factors that influence the quality of chocolate products. Unfortunately, the geographical location of a chocolate factory is none of them. Moreover, many companies that claim to be making Belgian chocolates are outside of Belgium. How are their treats even Belgian?
Their creations have nothing to do with the long tradition and the skills of Belgian chocolatiers (if that was even a thing). Many of them simply use chocolate coverture made in Belgium, and their regular supplier is often Callebaut.
Making its chocolate from bean-to-bar, Callebaut is one of the largest companies that supply covertures to all categories of professionals, from chocolatiers to pastry chefs. It is known for sourcing bulk cacao in West Africa and for selling low quality products in the business-to-business segment all over the world. When professionals have a tight budget for their chocolate products, it’s Callebaut they call upon.
Callebaut chocolate coverture is 100% Belgian. Mixed, refined and conched in Belgium. Regardless, it is one of the lowest quality chocolate that professionals can use. The problem is that any chocolatier that uses Callebaut chocolate in his/her creations can triumph on its packaging to be making “delicious Belgian chocolates or chocolate”. While the main ingredient is actually of very poor quality.
It is clear how Belgian Chocolate and Belgian Chocolates are worthless definitions.
In the end, “Belgian chocolates” and “Belgian chocolate” simply mean MADE IN BELGIUM. These chocolate products are not inherently better than any product manufactured somewhere else. Used by companies to profit from a long-gone Belgian splendor, these words shouldn’t influence chocolate consumers in their decision-making process. The naiveness surrounding Belgian chocolate, Swiss chocolate, French chocolate or chocolate from any other country should be stopped.
No country produces the best chocolate in the world. It’s all a matter of quality ingredients, regardless the geographical location on a map.
What is YOUR opinion on Belgian Chocolates?
I did NOT get paid and did NOT receive any kind of favor for writing this article. These are my honest opinions at your service.