The History of Chocolate and Valentine's Day

By Maddie Donnelly, Gourmet Live guest blogger

Every February 14th love-struck men and women spend more than 1 billion dollars on chocolate products. Blame Cupid for the love-struck part, but why chocolate? What does chocolate really have to do with the most romantic day of the year? Here's a brief history of chocolate and Valentine's Day.

Our infatuation with chocolate first began 2,000 years ago when it was discovered in Latin America. The Maya and Aztec elites infused cocoa beans with water to form frothy chocolate drinks - the first frappuccinos, if you will - for special occasions and as sacrifices to the gods. The Aztec ruler Montezuma believed that chocolate was an aphrodisiac and routinely drank it before entering his harem, thus increasing chocolate's popularity and its association with love and romance. As it turns out, he was ahead of his time. Modern-day scientists have linked the chemical phenylethylamine in chocolate to feelings of excitement, attraction and even pleasure.

The rest of Aztec society used cocoa beans as money and were unable to afford to drink it. Thus "gifting" chocolate for consumption was the Aztec version of John Cusak standing outside of your window with a boom-box. Christopher Columbus saw how the Aztecs revered cocoa when he entered the picture in the sixteenth century and immediately took the luxury product back to Queen Isabella of Spain. Chocoholics sprouted up all over Europe, sharing the legend of their new obsession's alleged mythical powers. At one point in time, chocolate was believed to be so potent that nuns were forbidden from eating it and French doctors used it to treat "broken hearts."

By the 1800s, the Cadbury Brothers set up shop in England and began packaging candies to sell to a mainstream audience. In 1861, in a genius marketing move, Richard Cadbury created the first ever heart-shaped box for Valentine's Day, spurring the commercialization of the holiday. To this day, every February 14th we all still have a sweet spot for the sweet stuff.


One of our favorite chocolate recipes is a Triple Chocolate Tart with Boozy Whipped Cream. What are your favorites?


More from Gourmet Live: