By Jason Bell
Besides greeting cards, food is an essential part of the Valentine's Day experience. From chocolate to all sorts of sumptuous desserts, delicious food makes Valentine's Day a festive and romantic experience. There's so much more to Valentine's Day cuisine, however, than just a heart shaped chocolate box.
During the 19th and early 20th century, food wasn't actually a super important part of Valentine's Day celebrations. Candy hearts date back to at least 1866, when the Oliver R. Chase Company first started writing messages on the candies. But until the 1950s, cards served as the most important means of expressing undying love and affection. Today, the foodie revolutions have made Valentine's Day a veritable orgy of the highest quality food products: chocolate, champagne, cheese, and pricey prix-fixe menus at New York's hottest restaurants define Valentine's Day eating options.
The idea of aphrodisiacs is particularly interesting. Foods that inspire feelings of romance, aphrodisiacs are mostly myth and tiny bit science. Chemicals in chocolate like theobromine may help love along, but the biology behind chocolate's effects remains fuzzy. Non-Western cultures have an entirely different canon of aphrodisiacs, too. Deer antlers, rhino horn, and sea urchins are unusual, rare ingredients used as aphrodisiacs in China. Whether or not these products work, they're a fun, interesting addition to the global Valentine's Day tradition.
This Valentine's Day, think about the history of that chocolate box-I'm always interested to learn that the dishes we eat on particular holidays come with hidden historical and cultural meanings.