One of the most beloved ingredients in the dessert world, chocolate has long been associated with passion and romance. The famous lover Casanova called it the “elixir of love,” but its association with affairs of the heart goes back even further than the 18th century. In fact, chocolate as a symbol of love has its roots in ancient Mesoamerican history. Among the aristocratic elite, chocolate was regarded as a luxury that was often enjoyed as a drink. Made of roasted cocoa beans and flavored with cornmeal, honey, chilis, and vanilla, this frothy drinking chocolate was believed to be a powerful aphrodisiac among the Aztecs.
In the Aztec civilization, the “food of the Gods” was a prized commodity that was worth as much as gold; cacao beans were even used as currency to pay taxes. Shortly after the Spanish conquests of the Americas, chocolate was introduced to Europe in the 1600s and quickly became an indulgent and decadent dessert that was sold in specialty chocolate houses. When a shop opened in 1657 on Gracechurch Street, they described chocolate in their advertising as “a West Indian drink (which) cures and preserves the body of many diseases.”
While chocolate was becoming trendy in Europe, it was still considered a treasured delicacy due to the ongoing sugar shortage. Only the likes of royalty and the upper class could afford to indulge in chocolate, so it wasn’t yet intertwined with Valentine’s Day. Although the addictively delicious drinking chocolate was popular among the elite, it was still out of reach for the average person.
Chocolate + Valentine’s Day: A Love Story of the Ages
The holiday gets its name from several early Christian martyrs named Valentine but its connection to romantic love was first mentioned in Chaucer’s 1382 poem, Parlement of Foules, which describes Valentine’s Day as an act of love: “Every bird cometh to choose his mate…on seynt Voantynes.” The holiday continued to gain in popularity over the next few centuries as lords and ladies of the Romantic era wrote love poems and songs in celebration of Valentine’s Day. With the introduction of mass-produced cards and an inexpensive penny post in the Victorian era, Valentine’s Day became a national holiday that was celebrated by the mainstream population.
Around the same time, chocolatiers refined the cocao extraction process, which allowed them to produce mass quantities of chocolate that was affordable to the middle class. Seizing an incredible marketing opportunity, Richard Cadbury merged Valentine’s Day with these popular “eating chocolates” by packaging them in adorable heart-shaped boxes covered in rosebuds and Cupids. After the chocolates were eaten, these “fancy boxes” could be used to store sentimental items like lockets of hair, love letters, and other priceless mementos.
Across the pond, American retailers were also cashing in on the commercialization of Valentine’s Day. In 1907, a chocolate entrepreneur named Milton Hershey introduced the famous teardrop-shaped chocolate kisses, which got their name from the kissing sounds the machines made during production. These bite-sized delights were mass-produced at an affordable cost and were marketed as “a most nourishing food.”
Since then, the trend for chocolate gift-giving is a boon for retailers every February 14th, a testament to the timeless, universal appeal of this irresistible sweet treat. Even if you think it’s a V-day cliche, you still might be on the hook to get your sweetheart a box of chocolates. In fact, a 2018 survey found that 94% of Americans said they hope to receive chocolates or candy for Valentine’s Day. Flowers might be another go-to gift, but 69% of Americans prefer chocolate over a bouquet of blossoms. Roses are red, violets are blue, chocolate is sweet and so are you!
Celebrate the chocolate tradition with chocolate cake slices from Ne-Mo’s Bakery, a rich and delicious dessert that is sure to make someone’s day even sweeter. As Charles Dickens once famously said, “There is nothing better than a friend unless it is a friend with chocolate.”