Great idea! But we wish that more of this gift-giving could involve craft chocolate. So, please do your part! Treat yourself, your partner and any other loved ones to some of the treats we’ve assembled for Valentine’s Day.
Society seems hell-bent on instilling chocolate with magical properties so as to justify our consumption of it. There is a long-standing connection between chocolate and sex, and countless health claims are in circulation.
Please see the below for a (brief) history of chocolate and sex, starting with some definitions before moving on to some debunking. But fear not. Whilst chocolate technically isn’t a proven “biochemical aphrodisiac”, it’s still a great way to show and share your affection. Especially on Valentine’s day.
Aphrodisiac: definitions and history
It’s the (pseudo)scientific term for “love potion”. An aphrodisiac is defined as “a food, drink, or other thing that stimulates sexual desire”, or “a substance that increases sexual desire, sexual attraction, sexual pleasure, or sexual behaviour”.
We first find the term describing food in the seventeenth century. During this period, aphrodisiacs allegedly fought against infertility, rather than being a foodstuff that aroused desire. The list of foods that qualified as aphrodisiacs were extensive, including stinging nettles and root vegetables like parsnips (surely this has little to do with their nutritional content). Chocolate was believed to have the power to increase potency.
Chocolate makers, pundits, medical ‘experts’ and many others would have us believe that chocolate is a physical aphrodisiac. This linking of sex and chocolate isn’t new. Ever since the conquistadors saw chocolate, the two have been intimate. To quote Bernal Díaz Castillo (chronicler of Hernan Cortéz’s conquest of Mexico), Montezuma would regularly consume “50 great jars of prepared cacao and foam … which they said was for success with woman”.
Read more about pre-conquest Aztec chocolate habits HERE. Alternatively, we talk more about the history of chocolate in our virtual tastings.
Though much of chocolate’s initial uptake in Europe was driven by the Catholic Church, chocolate’s association with sex continued to be consummated. For Casanova, chocolate was the “very elixir of love” and the notorious Marquis de Sade celebrated its potency, begging for it to be brought to his boudoir.
In Britain, Henry Stubbe, a 17th-century physician, was a passionate supporter, writing in The Natural History of Chocolate (1662) of the “great use of chocolate in Venery [sexual indulgence], and for supplying the Testicles with a Balsam, or a Sap.” Stubbe actually converted Charles II to his way of thinking, with Charles II spending a staggering £229 10s 8d on chocolate and cocoa in 1669 alone; considerably more even than he paid as a stipend to his various mistresses.
The party king, Charles II, spent more on chocolate than his mistresses. In 1669, he spent £229 10s 8d on chocolate. He spent just £6 on tea in comparison.
Today, we still claim chocolate as an aphrodisiac, capable of working all sorts of miracles. In part, these claims are based off of this history. Increasingly, they are also based on claims associated with the myriad of chemicals contained in chocolate.
Most of these claims are concentrated on four chemicals, described briefly below:
- Theobromine: Theobromine is to chocolate what caffeine is to coffee; that is to say: the main stimulant. But whilst theobromine INCREASES the heart rate, it DECREASES blood pressure. It’s the “stimulant that relaxes”. (Note: dogs can’t metabolize chocolate, and it can lead to really unpleasant reactions in them … so don’t ruin Valentine’s Day by treating your dog).
- Phenethylamine (PEA): Phenethylamine works by stimulating the release of endorphins and dopamine. It works the same way as an exercise makes you feel good (and sometimes high). The first flush of love produces PEA, alongside oxytocin. Ultimately, we digest it so quickly that it is near impossible to track its physiological effects and, by extension, whether or not it acts as an aphrodisiac.
- Tryptophan: Tryptophan is a chemical that the brain uses to make serotonin, which, in high, levels can produce feelings of elation, even ecstasy. It can also make you sleepy. And in addition to chocolate, turkey, milk, oats, and various nuts are also very high in tryptophan.
- Quercetin: Quercetin is a flavonoid that has anti-inflammatory properties and is claimed to work similarly to Viagra by relaxing blood vessels and increasing blood flow to genitalia. Again, chocolate contains lots of quercetin (as do many other fruits).
The Bad News
Unfortunately, the biochemical claims for any of these chemicals as a physical aphrodisiac seem… stretched.
- Even though chocolate does contain PEA, and as people fall in love their brains produce PEA, the human digestive system breaks down this PEA very quickly. So no matter how much (or how fast) you (or your partner) eat chocolate, the PEA in chocolate won’t pass through to your brain to recreate the feeling of being in love.
- Quercetin has so far only been shown to work for people with really poor circulation, and even then, there is a dearth of studies showing quercetin working on human genitalia.
- At best, theobromine and tryptophan may make your heart beat faster and make you ‘happier’. But it’s a stretch to describe this as an aphrodisiac.
The Good News
Psychologically, the news is a lot better!
- Gifting chocolate, and the thought of savouring chocolate, creates ANTICIPATION.
- Gifting is also a great SIGNAL. For example, it can show you’ve been thoughtful, appreciate your partner’s likes (and dislikes) etc., and explain why and what you’ve chosen.
- The aromas, tastes and textures of chocolate are EVOCATIVE and STIMULATING.
- SAVOURING craft chocolate is also a wonderfully sensual and sensory pleasure. It’s MOOD ENHANCING.
So we can’t promise “the Lynx effect”. Chocolate isn’t a proven pheromone or biochemical aphrodisiac. It is unlikely that the few squares of craft chocolate a couple consumes will contain enough chemicals to rip each other’s clothes off, contrary to what advertising might suggest. Whilst it has been affectionately termed a “food of love”, the evidence seems to suggest that it’s simply a food we love.
But craft chocolate is a great way to start treating your Valentine. It shows you care and want to share. And it kicks off the right mood and signals your desire to savour and stimulate! For inspiration, see HERE.