The late cartoonist Charles M. Schultz once observed, “All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.” If you’re like us, you probably think little is a relative term and chocolate is, in fact, the sixth, unofficial food group. But what makes us associate chocolate with romance?
Turns out this one goes way back. Chocolate was invented some 3,100 years ago by the Aztecs, who made a frothy, beerlike drink from ground cacao seeds. They believed that chocolate had aphrodisiac properties, and the emperor Montezuma is reputed to have drunk a brew dozens of times a day for some extra . . . ahem . . . virility.
Spanish conquistadors brought cacao back to Europe in the sixteenth century, and sweetened the mix with sugar cane. From there, it spread like, well, word of free cookies in the break room at our office. Chocolate was immediately recognized for its value and decadence, and by mid-1800s, Cadbury had capitalized on these qualities by producing the first chocolate candies—and shrewdly marketed them in a heart-shaped box for Valentine’s Day.
These days, we know that chocolate not only tastes divine, but the dark stuff also contains health-boosting antioxidants and flavonoids, and phenylethylamine, a natural alkaloid that releases endorphins—not so coincidentally, the same heart-quickening, excitement-producing chemicals that run roughshod over your brain when you fall in love. As if we needed any other reasons to indulge.