Giving chocolates to your loved one on St. Valentine’s Day has been a tradition that goes back to the 1800s, but how exactly did the two become inseparable? Strangely, St. Valentine has little to do with it. The origin of Valentine’s Day is linked back to two early Roman saints, both named Valentine, who were lauded for their sympathetic, heroic, and romantic endeavours. One legend is based on an imprisoned priest named Valentine who sent the first “valentine” message, a letter, to his jailor’s daughter signing it “From your Valentine”.
Chocolate has been revered for centuries, but not always as the delicious, sweet confectionary that we know of today. Cocoa and cacao both come from the Theobroma cacao tree of South America, with the name Theobroma taken from Greek and literally meaning “food of the Gods”.
It was thought to have all begun in ancient Mesoamerica, present day Mexico, where the first cacao plants were found and the Mayan and Aztec indigenous cultures would grind the cacao beans, mix them with water, chilies and cornmeal to form a bitter drink. When the Spanish invaded Mesoamerica in 1519 they witnessed Montezuma, the Aztec King, drinking up to 50 cups of the dark liquid before his visits to his large harem of women, which gave some credence to the myth that chocolate is an aphrodisiac. Whilst chocolate does contain tryptophan and phenylethylamine, two chemicals that affect the brain’s pleasure and reward centres, most scientists agree that the amount of these chemicals present in chocolate is too little to have any marked effect on desire.
The Spanish took the cacao bean back to Europe and by the early 1600s “chocolate houses” had become popular spots for social gatherings. The world’s most famous lover, Giacomo Casanova dubbed chocolate the ‘elixir of love’, and reputedly drank large quantities for its stimulating qualities.
It was during the 1980s that some well-known chocolatiers came up with a process of extracting pure cacao butter from whole cacao beans to create a more desirable form of “drinking chocolate.” This process resulted in an excess of cacao butter, which was used to produce more varieties of what was then called “eating chocolate”.
Are you aware that there is a difference between cacao and what we describe as cocoa? Although both start out as beans from the cacao plant, it is common for chocolatiers to refer to cacao to describe the plant, the pod, the beans and the paste of the beans, whilst cocoa is applied to anything that has been processed, such as chocolate bars, drinks and cocoa powder. Nowadays, cacao powder is often packaged as vegan as it has been minimally processed with no additives.
It was Swiss confectioner Daniel Peter who developed the first solid milk chocolate in 1875, establishing Switzerland as a chocolate-making centre. In an effort to increase sales of chocolate produced by his own chocolate factory and driven by a need to increase his sales, Daniel Peter decided to experiment by adding milk powder, made by his friend Henri Nestlé. Switzerland is still renowned for producing delicious, smooth milk chocolate and some of the most famous chocolate brands in the world today are Swiss.
Clever marketers started to package chocolates in heart-shaped boxes decorated with Cupids and rosebuds. It was Richard Cadbury, son of John Cadbury one of the leading cocoa and drinking chocolate traders in England, who in 1868 came up with the idea to sell an assortment of their ‘fancy chocolates’ in these decorative boxes. Cadbury’s boxes went on to become a popular gift of love on Valentine’s Day and the boxes were then often used to keep love letters in.
In Japan, it is women who give chocolates to not only their male partner or to someone they have romantic feelings for, but also to their male colleagues. Men reciprocate a month later in March on White Day, an event dreamed up by chocolate makers in the early 80s to boost sales.
Germany is where you will find little chocolate or marzipan pigs, (the pig represents lust and luck) holding flowers or four-leaf clovers reclining provocatively on chocolate hearts, being exchanged between courting couples.
Italy is known for romance and Italian lovers traditionally exchange a box of small hazelnut-filled chocolate ‘kisses’ wrapped in silver paper called Baci Perugina (baci means “kiss” in Italian). Each praline holds a little love note, with romantic quotes from philosophers, artists, authors, and proverbs, to help express feelings of love.
Chocolatiers are constantly coming up with unusual, exciting and exotic combinations that enhance the experience of eating chocolates taking it from the ordinary to the sublime. Whether you want to purchase fresh, handcrafted gourmet chocolates or whether you opt for the everyday brands, you can be sure that giving a beautifully decorated box on St. Valentine’s Day will be a sign of love.
Dark, milk, white or even vegan, some filled with exotic flavours or ingredients such as fruit and nuts – let’s face it, most of us enjoy eating chocolate. Chocolate is synonymous with Valentine’s Day all over the world, especially in the US when the 14th February represents the most lucrative day for chocolate manufacturers.