After eating chocolate you feel godlike, as though you can conquer enemies, lead armies, entice lovers. ~Emily Luchetti
The notion of Valentine’s Day typically conjures up images of flowers, chocolates, and sappy Hallmark cards. Men often scramble like lemmings to grab that last bouquet of roses, or dash into a convenience store to buy the remaining box of Russell Stover’s. They are driven, most of the time, by the image of being locked out of the house and/or deprived of sex for weeks to come.
One can clearly understand why flowers have such appeal, given their beauty and luscious scent. But how did chocolate get into the mix?
For centuries, chocolate has been assigned aphrodisiacal properties. The Aztec emperor Montezuma is reported to have imbibed large quantities of a special chocolate elixir before bedding one of his many wives for a night (morning, or afternoon) of passion.
Fruit of all the kinds that the country produced were laid before him; he ate very little, but from time to time a liquor prepared from cocoa, and of an aphrodisiac nature, as we were told, was presented to him in golden cups...I observed a number of jars, above fifty, brought in, filled with foaming chocolate, of which he took some… (Bernal Diaz del Castillo, member of Cortez's force, describing a meal of emperor Montezuma in 1519)
English poet William Wadsworth considered the treat worthy enough of an ode:
Chocolate, t’will make Old Women Young and Fresh
Create new Motions of the Flesh
and cause them to long for You-Know-What
If they but taste CHO-CO-LATE!
Chocolate’s “sinful” qualities have led to its taboo status in certain circles. It is, after all, one of the delicacies most often sacrificed for Lent. Its powerful magnetism is even the center of the renowned novel (and subsequent movie) Chocolat. Author Joanne Harris imparts the tale of a village practically dancing in the moonlight to the tune of the new chocolatier — much to the dismay of the town’s good Catholics.
The tempting treat also merits a section in Stewart Lee Allen’s book, In the Devil’s Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food, where he recounts the chocolate passions of historical figures like the Marquis de Sade and Madame du Barry. (His interpretation of her legendary hot chocolate is intriguing, to say the least.)
Its taste can be conveniently crafted to suit anyone’s palate, whether one prefers the delicate, sweet taste of milk chocolate, or the stronger bite of bittersweet. Producers scour the earth for the most exotic types of cocoa beans with which to craft these decadent delights, and sell them in the form of truffles, bars, and a myriad of other creations. When spiked with chili peppers, the combination of sweet and hot can be like fireworks in the mouth — surprisingly delightful.
There is also an element of comfort to consider. When coming in from a winter storm, the first thing I head for is a mug of hot cocoa. And when I’m in a bad mood (ladies, you know the one), nothing says “I love you” like a square of Valrhona.
Chocolate has even infiltrated the adult product industry, where one can find anything from chocolate body frosting (complete with paintbrush) to bars of chocolate that can double as naughty soap.
Remember this, gentlemen, as you fight your fellow man for that last box of Russell Stover’s. It might behoove you to put your creativity to use and look for the chocolatier in your town. There will likely be a more unique selection of treats to choose from, and luscious goodies of a higher quality than you will find in 7-11.
Of course, you could also head into your local adult boutique — such a gift adds a whole new meaning to “sinfully delicious.”
Jennifer Iannolo is an editor and columnist for the Atlasphere. She is also an accomplished food professional, and the President of Adventures in Gastronomy, a culinary consulting firm. Her web site, Gastronomic Meditations, has been re-launched as a digital food magazine celebrating the art of eating well. Most importantly, Jennifer's boyfriend, Marcus, has been forbidden from presenting her with Russell Stover's chocolates.