Updated: Jan 15
The centuries long journey to a sweet relationship.
We all remember when Harry met Sally, but do you know when Chocolate met Valentine? Receiving a decadent, heart shaped box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day might seem like an obvious and welcome gift now but how did these two actually meet? And why?
Chocolate is considered by some to be a “food aphrodisiac” – it contains chemicals that can help elevate our mood and increase sexual desire. However, scientists believe the effects are more physiological than physical. Whether fact or fiction, we can see why chocolate may have become connected to our modern celebration of love on Valentine’s Day. But let’s dig a little deeper and discover how and why these two have become so ingrained in our current culture.
We will start a few centuries ago with an ancient civilization. One of the most important Gods of Mesoamerica was Quetzalcóatl, who was said to have gifted the cacao bean to the ancient Mayans. The Mayans reached the peak of their power and influence around 600 A.D. and the cacao bean was so revered and important to them, it became a part of their celebrations and served as their currency. Cacao beans were even used to pay for Concubines! Mayan leaders, the rich and the elite all consumed the roasted cacao bean as a hot, frothed beverage blended with spices and sweetened with honey and vanilla. The Aztec ruler Montezuma is said to have been the first to use the chocolate drink as an aphrodisiac…consuming as much as 50 cups before meeting up with his Harem. That’s a lot of chocolate!
In the 1600s, cacao beans were eventually brought to Europe where the frothed drink became a bit sweeter and thicker. “Drinking Chocolate” was poured from fine decorated porcelain pots into delicate cups and served in Chocolate Houses…but even then, only the very rich could afford it.
It wasn’t until 1912 that the first “bonbon” was created by Jean Neuhaus II, son of a Swiss immigrant to Belgium, who became a well known Chocolatier. In 1915, he along with his wife, invented the first box for chocolates, known as the “ballotin” – a term that is still used today.
So, we have our boxed Chocolates, lets figure out where Valentine’s fits in.
Around 270 A.D. the Roman Emperor Claudius II was having a hard time getting his soldiers to go to war for him because they didn’t want to leave their families and girlfriends, so he banned all marriages and engagements. Enter the holy priest Valentine who would perform illegal marriages in secret for the soldiers and their sweethearts. He was eventually discovered and imprisoned. During this time, he had become friends with the jailor’s daughter and before his beheading on February 14th, he wrote a note to her that ended with “from your Valentine”.
It wasn’t until 1382 that any real mention of Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love can be found in a poem written by Geoffrey Chaucer called the “Parliament of Fowls”. The narrator of the poem describes an assembly of birds, which are gathering for the purpose of choosing their mates. He says, ‘For this was on seynt Volantynys day… Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.’ (those are not typos!)
During Queen Victoria’s time in the mid 1800s, the practice began of sending ornate cards and gifts adorned with flowers and Cupids on February 14th to their lovers ….but still no chocolate.
We have to wait until 1861 when Richard Cadbury combined chocolate and Valentine’s Day by putting flowers and Cupids on heart shaped boxes filled with affordable Cadbury chocolates. He was the first to create Chocolates for gifting on Valentine’s Day. In 1907 we see the first chocolate “kisses’ invented by Milton Hershey. Did you know they got that name from the kiss sound the machine made when it deposited the chocolate blob on the conveyor belt?
Further commercialization of chocolates for Valentines Day was done by Russell Stouffer, selling their fancy heart shaped chocolate boxes in department stores. This made the boxed chocolates very accessible and affordable for the general public. A Valentine’s Day tradition was born!
It may have taken centuries for Chocolate to meet Valentines but the relationship is still sweet and flourishing !
Need a special chocolate for your own Valentine? Add a few of our Artisan Honey Crisp Chocolates to an assortment box…made with local honey supplied by Nautical Nectar.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Lori Eisenberger, Owner/Master Chocolatier