The praline is an iconic product of Belgium, the country which produces the best chocolate in the world and therefore it writes another great chapter in the book of praline history. One of the most interesting facts about pralines is that in Europe, it is tightly connected with chocolate (and especially with that of Belgium) despite the fact that the original praline had nothing to do with chocolate at all. It is useful to know the history of pralines to understand the differences between various products in different areas of the world.
There are two competing stories with an ambition to attribute the origin of pralines to one particular person. Some people say that the invention of praline can be traced back to 18th century Paris where Mr.Pralin (or Praslin) prepared the original one. The other theory attributes the primacy of putting the almonds or some other nuts into a caramelized sugar to Mr. Clément Lassagne, the cook of the prominent French soldier and an ambassador of the king Louis XIII, Marshal César, duc de Choiseul, Comte du Plessis-Praslin (1598 – 1675) from the small town of Montargis in central France. This is the more realistic scenario and it is commonly accepted as the true explanation of the praline´s origin.
This original form of praline is similar to that which is still popular in the southern part of the United States, especially in the area of New Orleans. Praline came to America with French settlers in the 17th century and it kept its original form since that time with only major change. In America, they use pecans instead of almonds or other nuts more typical for Europe.
Praline History in Belgium
The world-famous Belgian pralines were not born until the beginning of the 20th century when Jean Neuhaus II, a prominent Belgian chocolatier and the grandson of Jean Neuhaus, the founder of the Neuhaus company, invented the Belgian praline as we know it today. In general, it is made of a chocolate shell filled with some soft ganache. These are very popular in France, the home of the original pralines, as well. The French call them bonbons.
The fillings can be various, you will find pralines with buttercream, marzipan, nut, or even liquor. However, the most typical fillings are different. It is called praliné and it is made of the original praline: you can get it by grinding the nut covered with the solidified sugar and mixing the powder with chocolate, butter, and cream.
Jean Neuhaus did not invent only a praline itself, he introduced to the world also the typical rectangular box called ballotin which you can usually find on the shelves of any shop selling Belgian pralines. Prior to the practice of using the ballotin, pralines were usually packed in a small paper bag.
Belgian chocolate is famous all around the world and its production became an important sector of the Belgian economy. According to the 2015 data, 385,000 tonnes of bulk chocolate and 169,000 tonnes of other chocolate products (sweets, bars, or pralines) are produced in the country annually and consumed worldwide. The most important Belgium chocolate products are the pralines. In fact, praline is what first comes to mind when people hear the term „the Belgian chocolate“ and it became almost a synonym.