From the ancient Aztecs who discovered cacao came the connection between love and chocolate, and this has endured and evolved with chocolate’s history. Now no Valentine’s Day is complete without a box of chocolates – so let’s take a peek back at how this came to be.
Chocolate for Lovers: an Early Connection
The discovery of the rich and delicious cacao bean has been credited to the ancient Aztecs, who brewed crushed cacao beans with honey, spices and chilies to create a stimulating (and very strong!) drink (The History Channel). This concoction was prized for its energy-giving properties and was known as an aphrodisiac reserved only for the elite and powerful ruling class. The great emperor Moctezuma was said to drink up to 50 cups of cacao per day to help his ‘success with women’ (NPR)! Hence, the connection between love and chocolate has existed since before the modern-day chocolate we know today.
With Hernán Cortés’s conquest of Mexico the cacao bean came to Spain and gradually spread around the aristocracy of Europe. Casanova himself once called chocolate ‘the elixir of love’, and its reputation and popularity soared. But it was not until the turn of the Industrial revolution that chocolate was available to the larger population, and even later still until it became synonymous with February 14th: Valentine’s Day.
The Evolution of Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day is named after numerous martyred Saints named Valentine from across Europe as far back as the 3rd century. It became celebrated on the 14th of February for several reasons. One reason is that several St Valentines were executed on this day in the 5th century on different years. Another is that with the spread of Christianity competing with Paganism, the church was keen to replace Pagan holidays with equivalent Christian ones. The Pagan festival of Lupercalia celebrated fertility and was held in February each year, and this was replaced by the Pope in the 5th century with ‘the feast of St Valentine’ (National Geographic).
But it was not linked to romantic love until the famed 14th century poet Geoffrey Chaucer published the poem Parlement of Foules – a dreamscape poem that explores the nature of love through a gathering of birds that comes together on Valentine’s Day to choose their mate (Smithsonian). Chaucer’s cultural influence was massive and in the following centuries Valentine’s Day became more and more synonymous with a day to celebrate romance, and with that came the gifting of love letters, flowers, and (finally) chocolates!
Chocolate on Valentine’s Day
During the Industrial Revolution chocolate became easier to manufacture due to increased machinery and greater access to cacao beans. Keep in mind that originally the most popular way of consuming chocolate was as a cacao powder drink! As we explored in our close-up on cocoa solids, cocoa powder is created by separating the solids of the cacao bean from the oils (cocoa butter). This meant that cocoa butter was originally a by-product of drinking chocolate! It’s hard to image that today’s delicious and prized cocoa butter was once considered a leftover. It wasn’t until the 19th century that British chocolatier J.S Fry & Sons combined both cocoa solids and cocoa butter with sugar to form what we now know as modern-day chocolate (NPR). This method became quickly popular, replacing drinking cocoa as the most common form of consuming chocolate.
Richard Cadbury of Cadbury’s Chocolate was the first to connect chocolate with the commercial holiday of Valentine’s Day. Cadbury had become quite famous for their gift boxes of chocolates, and in 1861 they debuted a heart-shaped metal tin for Valentine’s Day. This was marketed as a sentimental keep-sake that could be used to store love letters long after the chocolates were eaten. The popularity of chocolate as a gift on Valentine’s Day soared and has endured to the current day to become a world-wide phenomenon. Now no Valentine’s Day is complete without a sweet treat!
Alpes d’Or offers our own limited edition Valentine’s Day boxes each year. We hope all of our loyal fans had a lovely Valentine’s Day! We certainly enjoyed our fair share of chocolate and we hope you did too.