A heart-shaped box of chocolates is a sign of love, a symbol – often a tool – of romance, and an intrinsic part of Valentine’s Day. But why?
From at least the time of the Aztecs, chocolate has been seen as an aphrodisiac. So it’s reasonable to assume that it has been connected to love’s dedicated day of celebration for many centuries. But, this isn’t the case.
The roots of Valentine’s Day are far from clear, and likely to have originated in the pagan Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia. It is also thought it began as a celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. Saint Valentine was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry, and for ministering to Christians persecuted under the Roman Empire. During his imprisonment, legend states, he healed the daughter of his jailer Asterius. Prior to his execution he wrote her a farewell letter ‘from your Valentine’.
But it was in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer, in the Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished and Valentine’s Day was first associated with romantic love. In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery and sending cards. Given that the ancient Aztecs considered chocolate a food fit for the gods, and early Europeans believed it served as a love potion, it was no wonder the Victorians considered chocolate a tool of seduction. Young men, observed one 19th-century commentator, seem ‘to know by instinct’ that the surest weapon in a suitor’s arsenal was a box of chocolates. Valentine’s Day soon turned into a commercial bonanza where Victorians would shower their significant others with Cupid-themed gifts and cards. Later in the 1800s, some well-known chocolatiers came up with a process of extracting pure cacao butter from whole cacao beans to create a more desirable form of drinking chocolate. This process resulted in an excess of cacao butter, which was used to produce eating chocolate. In a stroke of marketing genius, these chocolates were packaged in heart-shaped boxes decorated with Cupids and rosebuds. From that point on, giving chocolate for Valentine’s Day became de rigueur.
But if you are aiming to seduce with chocolate this Valentine’s Day, you can’t get away with any old soft centres in a heart-shaped box. Quality and ethical sourcing are more likely to sway the sentiments than a pretty bow! Local company The Chocolate Stag produces hand-made romantic treats, using white, milk and dark chocolate, available in boxes of 6, 12 or 24 individual chocolates. They come in seductive flavours, taste delicious and look enchanting, and have been made using high-quality ingredients, locally sourced where they can. So when it comes to showing someone how much they mean to you, say it with strawberry spheres or dark chocolate spiced rum truffles, salted caramels or gin and tonic truffles, And what’s more you’ll be honouring an age-old, very sweet tradition.