Have you ever wondered why chocolate is often associated with romance and love? The answer is in some significant stages of the history of chocolate, from the Aztecs to the launch of the first box of chocolates
What more romantic way to declare your love than by giving a box of chocolates, perhaps in the shape of a heart? Since ancient times, in fact, chocolate is associated with romance and passion and, since the mid-19th century, it has also become one of the essential symbols of the feast of Saint Valentine.
So let's go to find out what are the events that, over the centuries, have helped to consolidate this sweet tradition.
Chocolate, aphrodisiac and sinful food
For thousands of years, the indigenous cultures of Mexico and Central America have consumed the chocolate in the form of a bitter drink, named xocolātl. The Mayans and Aztecs used to grind cocoa beans and mix them with water, chilli and cornmeal to obtain a pleasantly creamy and frothy drink. At the time chocolate was especially appreciated as an energizing natural remedy, able to improve mood as well. The first to decree instead aphrodisiac properties was the legendary Aztec chief Montezuma II, known for asking cocoa beans from conquered peoples. The king believed that the drink could improve both military and sexual performance within his harem; it is said that in order to increase power and resistance he even drank 50 cups of hot chocolate a day and that in the harem had 50 young women.
It was 1519 when the Spaniards, captained by General Cortés, invaded Central America, defeating the Aztecs and bringing the popular drink to Spain.
THE'Spanish adaptation of the recipe included the addition of a sweetener (honey or, perhaps, cane sugar), vanilla (just discovered) and a pinch of cinnamon and black pepper. Soon the Spaniards were literally obsessed with it, to the point that the phenomenon attracted the interest of the Catholic Church, intent on making an investigation. Despite the widespread belief that chocolate has healing properties, such as lowering fever or the sensation of heat and humidity, European clerics condemned him as sinful and aphrodisiac food, able to instigate the faithful to perform promiscuous sexual activities. The intervention of the Church meant that the recipe for hot chocolate remained a national secret for almost a century. In fact, chocolate would have spread first in England and then in the rest of Europe, only after 1600.
Chocolate, a symbol of love
During the following century, chocolate continued to be associated with passion or lust until Anna of Austria, on the occasion of her engagement with King Louis XIII, gave him a gift of chocolate packaged in a decorated wooden box. After this episode, hot chocolate was considered a sort of elixir of love and spread rapidly in European aristocracy. The turning point in the history of chocolate, or what has made it commercially successful and that has made it an accessible, popular and universally associated food with romance, was the revolutionary invention of chocolates.
Johannes van Houten, a Dutch chemist, in 1828 invented the cocoa machine, which was a tool that finally allowed chocolate to be processed and solidified using molds. Starting in the mid-19th century, the chocolatiers perfected the chocolates creation process.
It is said that English Richard Cadbury, of the still famous Cadbury chocolate brand, was one of the first producers to have had the idea of linking these sweet little delights to Valentine's Day. An artist and a businessman, Cadbury was the first to launch decorated boxes of chocolates to give away on February 14th, suggesting not to throw the boxes to be able to save secret letters of love. The boxes of Victorian chocolates were a great success and the idea in the following century spread to most of the western world.
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