The Netherlands is known for plenty of (unhealthy) snacks and traditional dishes – everything from drop (liquorice) to kaas (cheese) – but unlike some of its European neighbours (we’re looking at you Switzerland), the Netherlands is not a country known for its chocolate.

But did you know that the Dutch actually played a pretty key role in developing the chocolate bars that we know and love today?

The history of chocolateChocolate has a long and rich history, stretching all the way back to the Maya, Toltec and Aztec communities of over 3.000 years ago. Between them, these societies are known to have used produced a bitter beverage using cocoa beans, and even used the beans as currency. 

In the thousands of years since, the uses and preparations of cocoa beans have changed significantly. It was the Spanish back in the 16th century who are believed to have been the first Europeans to incorporate cacao beans into their cuisine in the form of a sweet hot beverage, flavoured with vanilla and cinnamon. 

A history of chocolate in the NetherlandsIt took some time before the popularity of chocolate spread to other countries in Europe, but they managed to catch up eventually. In 1657, a Frenchman opened a shop in London selling solid chocolate which could be used to make the hot cacao beverage. This started a trend, and soon similar shops opened in Amsterdam, and it was even a Dutchman, Jan Jantz von Huesden, who introduced drinking chocolate to Germany in 1673.

While similar shops quickly started popping up across Europe, chocolate remained a treat that only the rich could afford. Even though some elements of the production of chocolate changed – at the start of the 18th century, the British added milk to improve the taste – it wasn’t until a Dutchman got involved in the early 19th century that the chocolate eaten around the world today started to take form. 

What is Dutch process cocoa?Dutch chocolate maker Coenraad Johannes van Houten and his father Casparus changed the chocolate industry with a simple invention; Casparus developed a method which used a hydraulic press to remove the fat, or cocoa butter, from ground and roasted cocoa beans, creating cocoa powder. In 1828, his son patented the process, which became known as Dutching.

Dutch cocoa is slightly different from natural cocoa. While natural-process cocoa powders are more acidic and sharper in taste, Dutch process cocoa powders undergo an alkalising process, which means the natural cocoa acids are partially neutralised. Not only does this change the pH of the cocoa powder, but it also darkens its colour, mellows its flavour, and alters its taste.

How is Dutch processed cocoa powder used?The Van Houtens’ work greatly expanded the potential uses of the humble cocoa bean. The method not only gave other chocolatiers the chance to work with cocoa butter to produce what was known as sweet (eating) chocolate, but Dutch processed cocoa allowed for the flavour to be used in baking and cooking for the first time. 

Because Dutch processed cocoa dissolves more easily than natural cocoa, it’s perfect for recipes such as ice cream and beverages, or even sauces and buttercreams. When it comes to baking, Dutch processed cocoa is used in recipes that also call for baking powder or both baking powder and bicarbonate of soda – this is because baking powder doesn’t require an acid to activate, and so doesn’t need the acidity provided by natural cocoa.

Different types of Dutch chocolateWhile the Dutch evidently played a key role in the development of chocolate, there are few famous kinds of Dutch chocolate. Let’s take a look at some of the better-known brands and forms of chocolate that come from the Netherlands. 

HagelslagIn an article about Dutch chocolate, it would be a huge oversight to not even mention one of the Netherlands’ favourite bread toppings: hagelslag. While these sprinkles weren’t initially made using chocolate, the chocolate variety of hagelslag is easily the most popular – and well known – version of the sweet treat today. 

Andreas Saldavs via Shutterstock.com.

Tony’s Chocolonely Tony’s Chocolonely is probably the most well-known brand of Dutch chocolate – and it’s possible that many around the world don’t even know it’s from the Netherlands! The company was established back in 2005, and is centred around the concept of 100 percent slave free chocolate. Today the brand not only has a superstore in Amsterdam (where you can create your own custom chocolate bar), but can also be found in shops and supermarkets around the world.

lumosajans via Shutterstock.com.

DrosteThe history of Droste chocolate goes back a little further, as the company was founded in Haarlem back in 1863. Nowadays, Droste is located in the Dutch village of Vaasen, and operates as an independent unit within the German confectionery company Hosta. Droste’s chocolate is particularly popular as souvenirs for tourists to take back to their home countries, but the company also sells cocoa powder.

emka74 via Shutterstock.com.

VerkadeSimilarly to Droste, Verkade is Dutch chocolate with a rich history, and celebrated its 125-year anniversary in 2011. As a brand, Verkade offers a variety of products, including sweet and savoury biscuits and, of course, chocolate. The brand also manufactures chocolate letters every year for Sinterklaas.

emka74 via Shutterstock.com.

Chocolatiers in the NetherlandsFinally, for those looking for something a little fancier or perhaps a gift for a special occasion, there are plenty of quality chocolatiers and chocolate shops across the country that offer a variety of tasty sweet treats. 

Dive into the delicious world of chocolate!Now that you know more about the role the Netherlands played in introducing chocolate to the masses back in the 19th century, there’s only one thing left to do: get out there and enjoy the tasty chocolate that can be found in the country today!

Thumb: monticello via Shutterstock.com.

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