Valentine's Day Chocolates
Photo © Carolyn Schweitzer at SXC
In modern times, people have considered Valentine's Day and chocolate to go hand in hand. Throughout history, the two have not always been directly associated with each other, but both certainly have had something in common.
According to Wikipedia, the first record of people eating chocolate was in the Amazon, around 4,000 years ago. It was around this time that people were cultivating the cacao bean and possibly grinding it to make drinks. There are indications that some early cacao or chocolate mixes were seen as aphrodisiacs. Wikipedia states that sometime around 300 A.D., the Mayan culture saw cocoa pods as representing fertility. Some records indicate that when the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes met the Aztec ruler Moctezuma, he learned that Moctezuma would drink a cacao mix before going to his harem. The cacao bean served other purposes, like being used as a tax, but it is possible that the modern day reputation of chocolate being associated with amor stems from the meetings between the Spanish explorers and the Aztecs 2.
Many of the explorers from Europe, including Cortes, began introducing chocolate to Europeans when they arrived back home. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the popularity of chocolate exploded, and demand for the newfound delightful substance increased substantially. Many shops began trading chocolate, and chocolate factories were set up in Europe and the United States. Chocolate had certainly gained an association as an aphrodisiac as well. In 1650, Princess Maria Theresa gave Louis XIV chocolate as an engagement gift 1.
As chocolate had gained widespread popularity and notoriety as an aphrodisiac, it would only take a slight move to solidify the association between the food and Valentine's Day. This occurred in the 1860s, when Richard Cadbury began creating designer chocolate gift boxes. These boxes came in a variety of shapes, including horseshoes and shields 3. One of the shapes he designed was hearts. These heart shaped chocolate boxes have proliferated across the world, and are one of the most easily identified symbols of Valentine's Day in modern times. Though they weren't together at first, nowadays Valentine's Day and heart shaped chocolate boxes go hand-in-hand.