What is it about Valentine’s Day and Chocolate?

When most of us think of Valentine’s Day, we think of red decorations, intimate dinners with a significant other (or defiant dinners with friends), and, of course, chocolate.The single biggest day of the year for this mammoth industry, Valentine’s Day combines the best of its brother holidays, Halloween and Christmas: giving gifts and eating a ton of candy.But where did this sneaky partnership between the chocolate industry and V-Day come from?What is it about Valentine’s Day and chocolate?

valentines chocolate couple What is it about Valentines Day and Chocolate?Most women will tell you that chocolate is so popular because it makes us feel like we’re in love.There is actually some truth to this- a chemical in chocolate, phenylethylamine (or PEA), is one of the substances responsible for the feelings of “new love,” meaning euphoria, hyperventilation, increased heart rate, dilated pupils, and sweaty palms.[1]Why on earth our bodies interpret these sensations as good feelings is a whole separate post.But it does seem that chocolate can help us feel happy, on Valentine’s Day or any other day.Then again, chocolate is not the only food that contains PEA.So why don’t we give boxes of cheese, salami, or herring on V-Day?[2]

Newhaus chocolate What is it about Valentines Day and Chocolate?Chocolate dates back over 3000 years, when the Mayans recognized the cocoa bean as food and tied it to life and fertility.The Aztecs also gave chocolate a position of importance in their society, actually using the beans as their currency.Chocolate came to “modern” civilization through Spain in the 1500′s, but it was the French (of course) in the 1600′s who gave chocolate its reputation as an aphrodisiac.

Last year the Economist released a short blurb describing the results of a study correlating chocolate consumption in various countries with the frequency of sex in that population.

economist chart 300x278 What is it about Valentines Day and Chocolate?

There are a few things to notice here.First, we should all feel really bad for the Japanese.Second, the Brits are clearly doing something wrong.Finally, however, any true association between chocolate consumption and frequency of sex is loose at best, and there’s definitely no evidence for a causal relationship.You could actually draw a line in the lower half of the graph that would suggest frequency of sex goes down with higher chocolate consumption.(Maybe because of increased weight gain?The decreased desire for sex when all that chocolate is around?)

So without any hard evidence that chocolate significantly increases amount of sex or that it’s special in making us feel in love, why do we continually return to it as our romantic food of choice?How has no health food or diet trend been able to wipe out our global obsession with this drab brown bean-derived substance? For centuries we have relied on chocolate to accomplish what our dating skills could not, but is it important because it works, or does it work because it’s important?

Which came first, the chocolate or the love?

 What is it about Valentines Day and Chocolate?

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