In the infamous words of Tina Turner…. What’s love got to do with it? (It being Chocolate!) Have you ever wondered how chocolate became a symbol of love? Of course, it is decadent, sweet, and in most cases, beautiful to look at. But just how did it gain so much notoriety as a gift for lovers? Well, you might be surprised to find out there is a historical answer to the question as well as a scientific answer.
Although it is quite unclear on when chocolate was invented, it can be traced back to 1500 B.C., prior to the Mayans. Ancient Mayan culture used the beans of the cacao tree (and that’s pronounced ka – kaw, not cocoa), to make a very bitter drink, not the sweet treat we know today. It is thought to have been used as a ceremonial drink, but there are several varying opinions about its use.
The Aztecs then took their love of chocolate to another level. Believing it was a gift from their gods, they not only kept the chocolate protected in very ornate containers, but also used cacao beans to barter for food and other necessities. The Aztecs considered the cacao beans more precious than gold. Another fun fact, chocolate has also been used around the world as an aphrodisiac since before the time of the Aztec Emperor Montezuma II.
By the late 1500’s, chocolate had made its way to Europe and the traditional chocolate drink began to evolve. Initially, the beverage was used as a medicinal elixir, however, the taste was not very palatable to the Europeans. They began developing the chocolate by adding sugar and spices. It was around that time that chocolate began to be a symbol of wealth and luxury. Loved universally, not only was chocolate a sign of good fortune, but combined with the belief it was an aphrodisiac, as you can imagine it became increasingly popular.
Fast forward to the mid 1800’s when Cadbury’s British chocolate company created the decorative heart-shaped chocolate box for Valentines Day. In doing so, according to the 2017 Guiness Book of World Records, Cadbury's is credited with the first association between candy and love. In 1868 the growing demand for chocolate just happened to coincide with the boom of the paper Valentine card, creating a permanent link between Valentine’s Day, a day for romance and love, and chocolate. Cadbury had no idea he was changing world culture with that heart shaped packaging.
Beyond the historical timeline of chocolate and the growing affection for it all around the globe, there IS scientific evidence that serves as the basis for the connection between chocolate and romance. It all comes down to the cacao bean itself. Cacao is rich in flavonoids and is a potent antioxidant. Not to mention, its historical use as an aphrodisiac can actually be attributed to its natural stimulants which open blood vessels to improve the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the brain, increasing alertness. It is full of molecules of tryptophan (yes, the same molecules that make us want to sleep after Thanksgiving Dinner) which the brain converts into serotonin – also referred to as the happiness drug. As you eat chocolate, endorphins are released, lifting your spirits. As these stimulants do what stimulants do, chocolate has a perceived positive effect on mood and has been known to act as an antidepressant and an aphrodisiac effect can be felt. Chocolate has been proven to produce a natural high which elevates a person’s mood and this is often equated to feeling in love.
In short, the Aztecs may have felt that chocolate was the food of the gods, so who are we to question it? What is more romantic than eating the foods of the gods, truly? And though many of us may have thought that it was the commercial world trying to make a dollar off of Valentine’s cards and chocolate hearts, we find that there is a direct link between eating chocolate, and feeling good, maybe even a few amorous feelings. Some things just naturally go together like peanut butter and jelly, bread and butter…CHOCOLATE AND ROMANCE. It’s scientific. Trust the science. Eat chocolate and fall in love.