Valentine’s Day is a synonym of love, roses, cherubs, and of course, chocolate. But have you ever wondered how this lovely treat became an essential part of this special day? Well, dear readers, grab your favourite chocolate bars, because we’re about to take a delicious journey through history to discover the sweet secrets behind the role of chocolate in Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day is named after two Roman saints, both named Valentine and completely unrelated to love or romance. However, the first mention of Saint Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday was found in writings by the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer in 1382. Where knights would give roses to their maidens and sing songs about their beauty. But there was no mention of exchanging sweet gifts, as sugar was still a precious commodity in Europe.
The First Chocoholics
Our story begins not in the fancy chocolate shops of Paris, Zurich or Brussels, but in the ancient civilisations of southern Mexico and Central America. The Olmecs are thought to be one of the first civilisations to use cacao. Their knowledge passed down to the Mayans, who had an important love affair with cocoa beans. They not only consumed chocolate, but they believed it was a divine gift from the Gods.
Mayan written history mentions drinks of chocolate being used in ceremonies, celebration and finalising important transactions. Despite the importance of chocolate in Mayan culture, it wasn’t exclusive for the powerful and wealthy, it was available to everyone. In many households, Mayan families enjoyed chocolate with every meal. Their chocolate was frothy and thick, and often combined with water, honey, and chilli peppers.
Now the Aztecs took their admiration to another level. They also enjoyed their chocolate as a hot or cold beverage and used the beans as a currency to buy food and other goodies. In Aztec culture, cacao beans were more valuable than gold. Xocolãtl as they called it, was mostly enjoyed by the upper-class, although the lower-class enjoyed it at special occasions, such as weddings.
The most notorious chocolate lover in Aztec culture was the emperor Montezuma II, who drank litres of xocolãtl every day for an energy boost and as an aphrodisiac.
Chocolate’s First European Adventure
Even though there are conflicting reports about when chocolate first arrived in Europe, it was believed it first arrived in Spain. One tale states that it was first encountered by Christopher Columbus in 1502, others that it was brought back by the conquistador Hernán Cortés in the 16th century, after being introduced to it by Montezuma’s court.
No matter how chocolate arrived in Spain, by the late 1500s, it was loved by the Spanish court. Spain began importing chocolate in 1585. Other European countries, such as Italy and France, encountered cacao after visiting Central America, and brought it back to their countries. Soon, chocolate mania spread all over the European continent.
Initially, chocolate was consumed as a drink, still somewhat bitter, but with a hint of sweetness. Soon, it became a hit among European aristocracy and was usually sipped upon while exchanging poetic love letters. However, the traditional xocolãtl did not satisfy European palates, so new hot chocolate flavours were created using cane sugar, cinnamon, and other spices and flavourings.
Fashionable chocolate shops, resembling the modern-day coffee shops, soon started popping up in European cities, like London, Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels, becoming hubs for the wealthy and love-struck couples.
The Romantic Revolution
The real chocolate love story began in the 18th century when the chocolate-making process went through a big improvement. In 1847, British chocolatier, J.S. Fry and Sons created the first chocolate bar, moulded from sugar, cocoa butter and chocolate liqueur. But it wasn’t until 1879, that Rudolf Lindt, a Swiss chocolatier, created a conch machine that made chocolate easy to eat. Sugar and milk powder was added to make it more sweeter and even more appealing. This newfound sweetness gave chocolate a whole new identity, a symbol of love, passion, and romance.
By the 1840s Valentine’s Day was associated with love and romance, and naturally embraced chocolate as the ultimate expression of love. It was the Golden Age of Cupid and Victorians loved the notion of love and being showered in gifts and love letters. The first heart-shaped chocolate boxes began to appear in the late 19th century, designed with intricate patterns by Richard Cadbury. Chocolate became the way to a person’s heart, literally and figuratively.
Nowadays, the tradition of giving chocolates on Valentine’s Day has evolved even more and more ways of celebrating this special day have been embraced, check our last year's blog post for more creative ideas to celebrate your Valentine. Chocolatiers have made chocolate their canva and taken it to a whole new level. From heart-shaped truffles filled with all kinds of creamy fillings to personalised chocolate goodies like brownies. There’s a chocolate treat for all types of romance.
And just like that, with Valentine’s Day approaching, our Valentine's brownies take the shape of a heart, which has become the symbol of this romantic holiday. During the month of February it is almost impossible not to be seduced by the sight and smell of chocolate.