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Love and Chocolate

Love and Chocolate

February has arrived and that means it’s time to celebrate love. Love, and of course, chocolate. You can’t have Valentine’s Day without the chocolate. How did it come to pass that Valentine’s Day is so closely associated with chocolate? So much so that the sweet delicacy often comes in the shape of a heart? Did Cupid’s arrow manipulate us into desiring this smooth silky rich sweetness in order to fall in love, or as a byproduct of the sentiment? It turns out that love and chocolate are often in the same sentence for some very compelling reasons.

Luxury

If you can imagine a chocolate fountain in all its glory, it won’t surprise you that chocolate as a luxury food item has been around for centuries. The Mayans and Aztecs valued it so much they used it as currency. Among the nobility of 18th Century France it was thought to have medicinal properties, including aiding digesting. It stayed as a luxury item until well into the 19th century.

Taste

Chocolate in its many forms as we know it today is the quintessential sweet treat. But it wasn’t always so sweet. The Mayans drank a bitter mixture of water, chili, vanilla, and crushed cocoa beans. It would hardly be recognizable today, or even desirable, but it was the cocoa bean that they valued. Even without the sugar – they were on to something. The Aztecs felt the same way, and when they conquered the Mayans, they demanded that the taxes they were paid be paid with cocoa beans.

Later, and mostly in Spain, the bitter drink was sweetened with sugar and cinnamon. This made the drink more palatable, as did warming it up, and soon it spread to other European countries. But it was still an expensive drink, and only very wealthy people could afford it or visit the chocolate shops of Paris, London, Madrid, or Amsterdam.

Seduction

Besides tasting delicious and have a silky smooth texture, is chocolate really an aphrodisiac? The answer is yes, or at least many have thought it to be so. This would definitely explain its smooth transition as a love holiday staple.

Montezuma, apparently quite the ladies man, would drink an outrageous amount of the Aztec cocoa drink because he thought it gave him amorous success. The famous Italian lover Casanova was also a fan of chocolate as a seduction tool. Napoleon ate chocolate for “energy” every single day!

But there may be some solid science behind what famous lovers have known by instinct and in practice. Chocolate has properties that act as aphrodisiacs, including alkaloids such as theobromine and phenethylamine. These alkaloids work wonders on the brain, making it happy by increasing serotonin levels, and mimicking the feeling of being in love.

Marketing

You can’t have success with any product unless it catches on with a creative marketing campaign. In 19th century England, Richard Cadbury, chocolate manufacturer extraordinaire understood this and paved the way for Valentine’s Day and chocolate to be forever joined in holy marketing matrimony.

Chocolate was ingested primarily in liquid form, and Mr. Cadbury wanted to find a way to make it tastier. His idea turned out to be revolutionary. He figured people could just forget about trying to make a chocolate drink and just eat chocolate. In an inspired move, he decided to package the chocolates in beautiful boxes that could later house cherished mementos, such as a letter from a suitor. These boxes came in various shapes and sizes, including boxes shaped as hearts.

In the United States, Milton Hershey took the lead in the commercialization of Valentine’s Day by making his now ubiquitous chocolate kisses. And these were chocolates that everyone could afford and share with their lovers. Hershey not only marketed the kisses as delicious, but also healthy. Who could resist a food that for centuries was associated with success in love, tasted delicious, and was now available to everyone? Russell Stover took over later in the 20th century as the premier seller of chocolate boxes, and remains so today.

The history of chocolate is indeed fascinating and its relationship to Valentine’s Day forever solidified. If we analyze it, it makes sense. We have a delicious food that makes us feel good, just like love. And since we want to feel that way all the time, chocolate can be enjoyed every day of the year, not just on February 14. With that said, now might be a good time for some chocolate!