Belgian chocolate. Everyone around the world has heard of its reputation, but when visiting Belgium, how do you know what type of chocolate to buy for your friends and family back home? How can you tell the good from the “bad”, if there is such thing as “bad” Belgian chocolate?
I didn’t want to even attempt ranking belgian chocolate from best to ‘less-good’ based on taste, but it is easy to categorize the chocolate based on for whom your buying. You may ask yourself: do I buy from Godiva, Neuhaus, Leonidas, Marcolini, Guylian or do you go for the 10 boxes for 10 euros found in most souvenir shops?
1) NOT WORTH THE FULL SPLURGE:
Pierre Marcolini – luxury chocolates with a focus on exotic tastes and imported cocoa beans from Latin America, Mexico, Madagascar, etc. The chocolates are best described in a quote from the chocolate designer himself: “I think we can surprise people with more sparing, elegant products”.
Marcolini pushes the envelope of what could be considered chocolate. They have a “philosophy” of chocolate and “lines” of chocolate such as the Ephemeral Collection (read more here). There are indeed some surprises like lavender-flavored chocolate and garnishes that look like gold. These tiny chocolates do look impressive.
Visiting a Pierre Marcolini shop is a recommendable touristic experience. There is a different feel to this shop compared to the others, which have their chocolates stacked like bricks in display cases. In Marcolini’s its more like a visit to a jewellery store where you look at each piece individually and appreciate its beauty. But, unless you are traveling with lots of spending money or visiting a Belgian and want to bring a gift for the host, Marcolini’s chocolates may not be worth the full on splurge. If you are a die-hard chocoholic or want to try something truly unique, go ahead and try a few chocolates from Marcolini, about three will probably do the trick.
2) FOR MOM:
Neuhaus Createur chocolatier 1857 – Jean Neuhaus invented the praline. What is a praline some less-experienced chocolate indulgers might ask? A praline is a heavenly smooth chocolate filled with a soft centre.
You can give your mom chocolates and be proud to tell her that you chose them just for her from Neuhaus, the inventor of the “Belgian chocolate” (aka pralines) and you can add in some other tidbits of history for her (find tidbits here). But wait it gets even better!
Neuhaus has what they call a Lady Chefs box. A soft pink box of chocolates wrapped in a silky brown ribbon. Its looks more like a fancy purse or handbag. Inside this box she will be surprised to find elegantly decorated pralines that have signature of each lady chef on them. You will impress her so much that she will say she doesn’t want to eat them because they are so beautiful, but in the next moment she won’t respond as her mouth will be full of a sweet delight.
Neuhaus doesn’t only have the Lady Chefs box and is its also a good choice for your wife/husband, girlfriend/boyfriend, or grandparents.
3) FOR YOUR BEST FRIEND:
Godiva Belgium 1926 – one of the most well-known Belgian chocolate brand around the world. Your best friend will appreciate getting Godiva chocolate from the source. With a variety of packages to choose from like truffles or a mixed box, these chocolates truly live up to the Belgian reputation.
Godiva chocolates are made with carefully selected cocoa beans which have been roasted and prepared following the Godiva recipe. Presenting your best friend(s) with chocolates made from 100% cocoa butter and that have been hand decorated, they will definitely know that you brought them something special back from Belgium.
4) FOR YOUR GOOD FRIENDS:
Leonidas – is very popular, there are tons of shops around Brussels, and its also more affordable. Leonidas chocolates have all the different types of fillings you could ever want from caramel, pistachio, strawberry to marzipan. They might, however, be a little on the sweet side for some as they often taste more like sugar or the filling than chocolate.
Leonidas is less exclusivist and produces chocolates in industrial quantities with “1,400 outlets” around the world. But these fresh belgian chocolates coming in a nicely wrapped box are a great gift for good friends.
5) FOR ACQUAINTANCES:
Guylian – chocolates made by the husband (Guy) and wife (Lillian) chocolatiers (Guylian) who invented the swirled seashell-shaped chocolates. Filled with a hazelnut praline filling, these chocolates keep with the Belgian tradition. They are proclaimed as “The World’s Favorite Belgian Chocolates” and are sold in about 100 countries around the world.
Guylian chocolates are the answer for your colleagues at work or the other dozen friends who said “bring me back some belgian chocolates”. Guylian is cost effective and yet is still of Belgian quality. You may even find boxes of seashell chocolates in the souvenir shops among the stack of 5 boxes for 6 euros.
6) FOR YOU:
Galler, Cote d’Or, Dolfin – you can find all of these brands in any grocery store in Belgium. No you are not stooping to the lowest level of Belgian chocolate for yourself! Since you have purchased some chocolates from each one of the major Belgian chocolatiers, hopefully your friends will be nice enough to share or you will have already gotten a free taste-test at the shops.
These three brands of chocolate give you a much much better idea of what Belgian chocolate actually tastes like. The fancy boxes of chocolate from the chocolatiers described above all strive to be unique so it often distracts from the simple taste of Belgian chocolate.
Galler – Jean Galler, a well-studied confectioner, launched his own enterprise at the age of 21 and now Galler is found throughout Belgium in 2,000 outlets and has received various official recognitions. The most popular Galler chocolate found in the grocery stores are the filled chocolate bars and chocolate tablets. I would recommend choosing one or two filled chocolate bars of your preferred flavors (like cafe, hazelnut or maybe even raspberry).
Cote d’Or – made since 1883 with cocoa beans from Africa, this chocolate definitely has its own taste. The African elephant on the Cote d’Or label became a symbol of fine chocolate in Belgium. Upon first tasting this chocolate, you may smack your lips together considering if you like its particular taste. Compared to other Belgian chocolate brands, it holds the true flavor of the cocoa bean. Generally, Cote d ‘Or is only found in a few select flavors such as various degrees of dark or milk chocolate and chocolate with nuts. In 1965, Cote d’Or became the official supplier to the Belgian royal family. I guess if this “grocery-store” brand is good enough for the royal family, it should be worth a taste.
Dolfin – for the true chocolate lover, Dolfin chocolate is a must! Dolfin chocolate is found in a thin tablet form. This chocolate is refined and meant to be savored. There are a variety of flavors to choose from and they are all done right: with a hint of flavor. With Dolfin, you can taste the cocoa and the unique flavor you choose. Dolfin chocolate comes in a wide range from 32% (milk chocolate) to 88% bitterness (dark chocolate). “It contains less sugar, less fat and more cocoa than traditional recipes and therefore concentrates on the nutritional and therapeutic qualities of chocolate.” In other words, every chocolate lovers dream.
So now that you have a guide to belgian chocolate, you won’t have to worry about what to buy for whom and you can decide which type you would like to try most. Or maybe now you want to try them all!!
Have you heard of one or more of these brands of Belgian chocolate? If so, what’s you’re favorite? Did this guide help you choose the type of chocolate you want?