February 9 is Chocolate Day : How Chocolate and Valentines Day fell in love

Chocolate has a history as a love food.  Not only did ancient Aztecs consider it an aphrodisiac, you could use to pay taxes.

A Mesoamerican couple drinking chocolate upon marriage.

Remedies and Seduction

By the early 1600s, the vogue for chocolate had swept across Europe. In London, chocolate houses began to rival coffee houses as social gathering spots. One chocolate shop opened in London in 1657 advertising chocolate as “a West Indian drink (which) cures and preserves the body of many diseases.”

In France, Madame de Sevigne wrote about enormous chocolate consumption throughout the court at Versailles in 1671, warning:

“the Marquise de Coëtlogon drank so much when she was expecting that she gave birth to a little boy, black as the devil, who died.”

Louis IV drank it daily and Madame du Barry was said to mix chocolate with amber to stimulate her lovers.  Marie Antoinette arrived on French soil with a personal chocolate maker in tow.

Marie Antoinette even created a position at court, Chocolate Maker to the Queen, and as such had quite the arsenal at her disposal.   Her recipes included, “chocolate mixed with orchid bulb for strength, chocolate with orange blossom to calm the nerves, or chocolate with sweet almond milk to aid the digestion.”

“Chocolate a la capucine,” though not credited to Antoinette, would have proved useful to French court ladies, who were beginning to suffer abuse over fattening their bottoms with too much chocolate.

All one needed to become svelte was “4 oz. of chocolate, 6 oz. sugar, eggs beaten well and a good half-litre of Madeira!”   Consume at breakfast and don’t eat until dinner. . . because you have probably passed out.(The Temptation of Chocolate).

It wasn’t until the cocoa butter extracted from the beans was processed into the rough form of a candy bar in England in 1847, according to Cadbury, and later rounded out with milk, that its appeal became more widespread. Once candy became cheaper to produce, more people got to taste it. And once they tasted it, well, I think you know…

Naked Festival

The origins of Valentine’s Day are even more complex. They can be traced to Roman times and Lupercalia, a Pagan festival that involved fertility and feasting in mid-February.

Priests called luperci would sacrifice goats and dogs to the fertility god, then dab the blood on the forehead of two young Roman men. The blood was dabbed away using wool dipped in milk, and then the young men would have to laugh loudly a few times, at which point they’d run naked into the streets.

Ladies would line up to receive lashes from the young men, wielding thongs of skin from the sacrificial goats; the whipping was meant to bring fertility.

A blend of fun, fertility, and erotic elements, as well as the date, ties Lupercalia to Valentine’s Day.

The Catholic Church did their best to take the nakedness out of the Lupercalia festival by martrying a rebel priest named Valentine and declaring Feb. 14 as St. Valentine’s Day.

Chocolate Boxes

Richard Cadbury is probably one of the first chocolate makers who had the idea of linking chocolate treats to Valentine’s Day. A born marketer, his company launched decorated boxes of chocolates for February 14th, with the suggestion of saving the boxes as a place to store secret love letters.  Cadbury often decorated them with his own paintings.

These elaborate chocolate boxes were prized by the late Victorians as special gifts, to be used as trinket or button boxes once the fancy chocolates had been eaten.  A very modern notion of recycling!

Designs ranged from superb velvet covered caskets with bevelled mirrors and silk lined jewel boxes, to pretty boxes with pictures of kittens, landscapes or attractive girls on the lid. Their popularity continued until their disappearance during the 1939-45 war: Victorian and Edwardian chocolate boxes are now treasured collectors’ items.

The Victorian chocolate boxes were a big hit, and the idea spread to most of the Western world over the next century.

Lingerie Box

Chocolate pioneer Milton Hershey started as a caramel maker, but in 1894 began covering his caramels with sweet chocolate. In 1907, Hershey launched production of tear-dropped shaped “kisses,” so-called because of the smooching noise the chocolate made as it was manufactured. Mass-produced at an affordable cost, the kisses were advertised as “a most nourishing food.”

Russel Stovers began when Clara Stover started wrapping “Bungalow Candies” in her Denver kitchen in 1923. She and her husband moved to Kansas City and opened several factories, selling their Valentine’s chocolates in heart-shaped boxes to department stores across the Midwest.

One of their biggest-sellers is the “Secret Lace Heart,” a chocolate box covered in satin and black lace.  Basically a “lingerie box” of chocolates.

If you find Valentine’s Day annoying, spare a thought for Japan

Women have to give away 2 gifts of chocolate on Valentines Day.

The tradition of chocolate gifts on Valentine’s Day made its way to Japan in the 1950s, when Japanese confectionery company Morozoff began to promote the holiday.

There’s a theory that a Morozoff executive mistranslated the traditions of Valentine’s Day, leading to the company promoting the idea of women giving men chocolate and not the other way around.

Today, this tradition prevails through the giving of giri-choko, or “obligation chocolate”, where women are obliged to give men, including their co-workers, chocolate treats on February 14th. Honmei-choko, or “true feeling chocolate” is the chocolate they give to someone they really care about.

Sources : Smithsonian