Welcome to chocolate land!
As a true chocolate lover, an internship in the chocolate country really is a gift! And not just anywhere in the chocolate country, but in the capital, where you can find so many chocolate shops, chocolate confectioners and even the Belgian Chocolate Village.
During my first week at BeCook, when Sara (co-founder BeCook) gave me a tour of the building, we walked past one of the kitchens. A confectioner was working on his delicious art pieces. That’s how Sara got the idea to write different articles about chocolate. It's of course also very convenient that Sara, like me, is a giant chocolate lover. After talking for a while about which chocolate is delicious (spoiler: all of them), we got the idea to write blog articles about ‘holiday chocolate’, the chocolate we eat during the holidays. That’s why over the next few months I'm going to be publishing a series of articles about the chocolate we consume during the holidays. In December I'm, obviously, going to write about Christmas and in February, I’ll be writing about Valentine's Day. Two completely different holidays where chocolate plays an important part. My first step was to visit chocolate museums here in Brussels.
First, I went to Belgian Chocolate Village. A little chocolate museum where you take a tour to find out how chocolate is harvested and what the history of chocolate is (in short). You also get a personal demonstration by a real confectioner, with chocolate tasting! At the end there is a small cafe where you can buy and eat/drink chocolate milk and chocolates. Also absolutely delicious. A super experience over all.
After that I went to Choco Story. Also a chocolate museum, but larger in set-up. You get a device that you can use to point at sensors throughout the museum to listen to information and stories. You get not only information about the cocoa beans, harvesting and manufacturing, but also the whole history in story form with characters. Totally different from the other museum, but just as fun and interesting. It is also very interactive, because in between you can play games, quizzes and have your picture taken with a green screen. If you are ever in Brussels, but also if you live there of course, I would really visit the museums. If you're with young children, I recommend Choco Story, because it's less about reading and more about listening and there are lots of interactive activities. I really recommend visiting both museums!
A brief history of chocolate
Thousands of years ago in the territory that’s now Ecuador and Peru, cacao beans were grown to make a bitter liquid from them. Not only were the cacao beans used to make drinks, but they were also used as a sacrifice for the gods, as care products and they were even so valuable that they were used as money. One bean could get you a pepper, two beans an egg and ten beans were even worth a whole rabbit.
When Columbus traveled to the Americas, he wasn't really impressed by the cacao beans and the drink they made from it. He didn't pay any attention to the beans whatsoever and it wasn’t till years later that cacao beans were brought to Spain by Spanish discoverer Cortés. It was only from the 17th century on that chocolate was rising in popularity in Europe. Back then it was still only drunk and also only by the nobles. Because the Brits, the French and the Dutch were also extremely fond of the drink, they decided to start growing their own cacao. Not on their European land of course, because that climate is not the kind of climate where cacao trees can flourish, but in warm countries: Sri Lanka, Java, Sumatra, the Gold Coast in Africa (now Ghana),...
Then in 1800 there was the great Dutchman (did I already mention that I’m Dutch?) Casparus van Houten. He invented a machine that separated the cacao butter from the cacao powder. It was thanks to his invention that the Brit Joseph Fry could add more cacao butter to the substance instead of hot water, which created a solid matter instead of a drink. That matter was the first chocolate as we know it today.
Since then, there've been more and more manufacturers who’ve added all kinds of things to create the great variety of chocolate that we know and love these days.