Whilst the raw materials used in chocolate production do not necessarily originate in Belgium, the country has an association with the product that dates right back to the early 17th century. The industry expanded massively in the 19th century, gaining an international reputation and, together with the Swiss, became one of the commodity's most important producers in Europe.
Although the industry has been regulated by law since 1894, there is no universal standard for the chocolate to be labelled "Belgian". The most commonly accepted standard dictates that the actual production of the chocolate must take place inside Belgium.
Belgium's association with chocolate goes back as far as 1635 when the country was under Spanish occupation shortly after chocolate had been brought to Europe from Mesoamerica.
By the mid-18th century, chocolate had become extremely popular in upper and middle class circles, particularly in the form of hot chocolate drinks.
From the early 20th century, the Belgium was able to import large quantities of cocoa from its African colony, the Belgian Congo. However, contrary to popular opinion, Belgium's colonies did not play an important role in the foundation of the Belgian chocolate industry.
By 1900, chocolate became increasingly affordable for the Belgian working class. Belgium first started to export more chocolate than it imported in the 1960s, with exports of “Belgian chocolates” growing exponentially since 1980 due to their reputation for fine quality and their growing popularity as luxury gifts.