V-Day: History, Chocolate, and Aphrodisiacs
To trace the origins of Valentine’s Day, we have to go way back to Lupercalia. This was a Roman festival of sacrifice and virility. The Luperci, or priests, would sacrifice a goat and a dog, and anoint their own heads with the blood. Women were literally hit on. Men would beat them throughout the celebration, a practice they believed increased fertility. This drunk, naked event was Christianized when the church fused it with a day dedicated to Saint Valentine. Much has changed since the pagan traditions of this holiday were practiced, but we think it’s about time we remember and honor its original values: vitality, fertility, and sacrifice to the gods.
The Aztecs had similar practices to the Romans. Their gateway to the sacred was cacao, or chocolate. They drank a fiery tonic, different than what we drink today. Cacao was so divine, it was used as money and an offering to gods. It was associated with nobility. They likened the cacao pod to the human heart, and the spilling of its seeds to blood. Sacrifice was important to the Aztecs, like it was to the Romans. They would sacrifice a male slave in ritual. He would drink cacao before the ceremony, because it was considered the connection between heaven and earth. The Aztecs believed cacao increased virility, which helped the emperor satisfy his harem.
Many more historical steps have led up to the billion dollar industry that is the Valentine’s Day we know today. The Normans had something called Galentin’s Day, translated as “lover of women.” The first known Valentine was French, sent from the Duke of Orleans to his wife from the London Tower Prison. In England, Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized the whole idea and in the Middle Ages, paper cards were common. After the Industrial Revolution, quantity and accessibility rose, and cards became more popular. Then, in the 20th century, Hallmark was born.
Chocolate was taken back to Spain after the colonization of Mexico. The elite consumed it, and from there, it spread to the rest of Europe. Chocolate was even included in food rations for soldiers during the World Wars. It represented comfort and sustenance for each man far from home. From the Aztec Empire, up until today, humans have taken the fruit of the cacao tree and mixed it with different ingredients to make something desired and delicious.
Now that we know the tantalizing history of Valentine’s Day and the sacred origins of chocolate, let’s celebrate where they both collide: aphrodisiacs. We’ve compiled some food inspiration for a new kind of Valentine’s Day. With these aphrodisiacs, you can create a menu celebrating the founders of Valentine’s Day and the ancestors of our beloved chocolate, along with other cultural traditions that invoke passion through food.
International Ingredients for Love
In celebration of primal lust and sacrifice, according to the Romans, have a piece of red, bloody meat. Make sure to beat it to encourage fertility and tenderness.
Everybody tells you not to eat garlic on a date, but don’t listen to them. In India, and other parts of the world, garlic is considered an aphrodisiac. The effects are considered so strong that some religious people refrain from eating it, in order to remain chaste.
While hitting the Indian buffet before a night of romance might not sound like a good idea, eating some seasoning is. Warming spices like curry, cardamom, cinnamon, chili, and ginger, raise your body temperature and your desire.
Yogurt is used in Greece to celebrate matrimony. Newlyweds are encouraged to eat yogurt during their honeymoon. Today, we know that yogurt is a great food for women’s sexual health.
FIG HONEY POMEGRANATE
In the Middle East, sticky, sweet, regional foods like figs, honey, and pomegranate are known to fire up the libido. Juicy, gooey and nutritious.
Cacao has stimulants that release dopamine to the pleasure center of the brain. Chocolate goes perfectly with another feel-good concoction, coffee. Thank you, Aztec Empire!
Finally, many cultures keep it simple. It if looks like a sexual organ, then it must be an aphrodisiac. We can’t argue with that.
COOKING FROM THE HEART
The link between food and sex is nothing new. Sex is heightened by the invigoration of the senses, and food is a sensual experience. We can play with temperature, alternating between hot and cold dishes, say the sizzling, dripping meat, and the cool, smooth yogurt. We can play with scent, switching between the cozy fragrances of cardamom or cinnamon, and the shocking heat of chili. We can play with nature, following the visual clues that take us to the fruits and vegetables that will help us thrive. Best of all, we can close out this whole celebration of love back where it all began: the heart.