The history of Belgian chocolate began 2,000 years ago in the rain forests of South America where the cacao tree was first discovered. Native South Americans found that the pods of the cacao tree contained seeds with a new and unusual taste. Spanish explorers returned from South America with cacao seeds and popularized the new drink in the royal court. Soon, imported cacao became a trade, new recipes were invented and shared, and within 100 years, chocolate spread throughout Europe.
During the 17th century, Belgium was ruled by Spain and thereby introduced to chocolate. Many royalty, artists and others of nobility experienced their first chocolate drink in the beautiful Grand Place. In fact, in 1697, Henri Escher, mayor of Zurich, Switzerland was so enthusiastic about the chocolate drink he experienced in Brussels that he introduced the idea to Switzerland. Ironically, today, Swiss chocolate is a primary competitor of Belgian chocolate. Today, Belgium has around 2000 chocolate stores.