Updated: Mar 12
Written by Tan Khai Teng and Xavier Lim
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, romantic partners once again start to ponder how they can elevate this special day to celebrate their love for one another. Unfortunately, this piece does not give you any insights on how to do that, but instead we explore the staples of Valentine’s Day, and some intricacies surrounding it - how did Valentine’s Day originate, why do people give chocolates, and why do chocolates seem to make us happy?
Celebration of Valentine’s Day
When we think about Valentine’s Day (or Saint Valentine’s Day), several things come to mind, such as the image of Cupid (you know, that winged baby with bow-and-arrows) and chocolates. Interestingly, the origin of Valentine’s Day is shrouded in mystery - nobody really knows who the true “Saint Valentine” was, though it was speculated that the first Valentine’s Day was in the year 496. Today, Valentine’s Day is celebrated across the whole universe in culturally unique ways! For instance, in Japan, women usually give chocolates to their love interest or even their male friends, with men returning the favor on White Day (14 March). We usually associate Valentine’s Day with chocolates, but why is this the case?
Why do people give chocolates?
The medieval period (approximately from the 5th to the late 15th centuries) saw a new focus on chaste courtly love where some of our common Valentine’s Day commodities appear. Back then, knights would give roses to their maidens and sing songs to celebrate their beauty from afar.
In the 1840s, the idea of having Valentine’s Day to commemorate romantic love was widespread in the English-speaking world. It was known as the Cupid's golden age, where Victorians exchanged intricate cards and gifts. This is when Richard Cadbury (you may recognise his surname), a descendant of a British chocolate manufacturing family came up with the brilliant idea of marketing the newly improved chocolates and started to sell them in aesthetically pleasing boxes that he designed. The boxes had dual purpose, one - to contain the chocolates and two - to be used for other purposes such as storing momentos!
Fast forward to today, chocolates are given similarly as a way to demonstrate affection and love for the other party. Some have mentioned that chocolates are given as ways to show joyfulness and desire for the other party and even to uplift emotions!
Why do Chocolates make us happy?
Eating in general makes (most of) us happy, but there seems to be a universal anecdotal belief that consuming chocolate makes us happy - is this true? Studies conducted by psychopharmacologists (people who study drugs) seem to suggest that is the case. Specifically, cocoa, the main ingredient of chocolate, contains various substances that promote the release of endorphins in the brain - also dubbed the “feel good” neurochemical. Endorphins subsequently act as messengers in the brain, communicating with the brain and functioning to help us relieve pain and feel a general sense of wellness. Besides endorphins, some chocolates also contain several other chemicals that boost our mood and energy levels, such as 1, 3, 7-trimethylxanthine (also known as caffeine) and tryptophan (an amino acid used by the brain to manufacture serotonin, a hormone that regulates feelings of happiness).
However, other researchers argue that the experience is purely psychological, as the magnitude of the aforementioned substances is insubstantial. Nonetheless, if consuming chocolates make us happy, does it truly matter as to why and how they do?
Did you know about these nutritional facts about chocolates?
Now, we know that chocolates may function as a mood enhancer, but this does not mean that we should actively indulge in chocolates! Chocolate is made up of cocoa which contains polyphenols, which offer health benefits, boosting digestion and brain health. Do take note that cocoa also contains a significant amount of fat. While the properties of chocolate sound great, it is important to note that polyphenols cause bitterness in unprocessed cocoa beans, hence companies have put in processes to reduce the bitterness. Hence, cocoa loses some of the main constituents responsible for the beneficial effects on health. Moreover, there are other substances (such as sugar and emulsifiers) which makes chocolates less healthy! However, to reap more benefits, you may opt for dark chocolates. When the chocolate is darker, the concentration of cocoa is likely to be higher than its lighter counterparts. However, the nutrients in the chocolate bars we find in stores may vary from brand to brand. It would be advisable to check the labels for the nutritional information!
Now, with your newfound expertise in Valentine’s Day and chocolates, we not only encourage you to go forth and proclaim your love to your love interest, but more importantly also consume chocolates in moderation.