Based on the grocery store shelves, Valentine’s Day is all about the chocolate. But why chocolate? Why not potato chips, or cotton candy, or even a nice juicy steak?
There are a couple of theories about why chocolate reigns supreme on this day of romance.
One theory is that people gave chocolate because they wanted the object of their affection to fall in love with them. It was thought to be an aphrodisiac, and for good reason. Chocolate is chock full of mood-altering chemicals. There’s good old, phenylethylamine, an amino acid associated with happiness and increasing amiability. You would certainly want your beloved to be more amiable. It has magnesium, which helps the brain manufacture serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is a must-have for love. Then there’s also the super-duper anandamide, named after the Sanskrit word ananda which means “joy and bliss.” The stimulant theobromine is in chocolate. Just the thing to get your heartthrob’s heart beating for you. Throw in a little caffeine and your love potion is complete.
The second theory gives credit to the marketing brilliance of Richard Cadbury of the famous English chocolate dynasty. After taking over Cadbury in 1861, Richard had an idea to sell an assortment of chocolate candies in beautifully decorated boxes for Valentine’s Day. Once the candy was gone, the boxes became the perfect place to store precious keepsakes such as love letters or locks of hair. People fell in love with this idea and we’ve been buying boxes of chocolate ever since.
Love potion or marketing brilliance? Let me know what you think.
By the way, theobromine is toxic to dogs, so skip the chocolate for them. They’d much rather have a nice, juicy steak.
Learn more fun food history in There’s No Ham in Hamburgers: Facts and Folklore About Our Favorite Foods.