How chocolate fell in love with Valentine's Day

Chocolate maker Richard Cadbury began packaging his company's chocolate confections in heart-shaped boxes in 1861.

(CNN)In Western culture, romantic letters have been part of Valentine's Day since the Middle Ages. Poet Geoffrey Chaucer, best known for "The Canterbury Tales," is credited with writing the first Valentine's poem in 1385.

The connection between chocolate and Valentine's Day, on the other hand, is a fairly recent one by historical standards, reaching back fewer than 200 years. And, surprise, surprise — it all has to do with marketing. (Think those ubiquitous holiday jewelry commercials are patronizing and annoying? Wait until you read this!)

From bitter to sweet

    There was nothing romantic about chocolate in its earliest incarnations. Xocolatl, or "bitter water," was a Mesoamerican drink made from ground cacao beans, chiles and spices. European explorers co-opted the beverage, bringing it back to the courts of Spain, France and England by the 1600s.
    Having access to chocolate was a way for the ruling class to assert their dominance, and as such was "associated with masculinity and virility," according to Charles Feldman, professor of food studies and food systems at Montclair State University in New Jersey.
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