Valentine’s Day is knocking at the door and is bound to be filled with lots of romantic breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and, of course, desserts. Some will choose tried-and-tested classics, while others will look for more unique options to make the occasion special and memorable.
So what better time to explore which foods have become tightly associated with love and romance over the years among different cultures than the season of love?
Yummy Bazaar compiled a list for your convenience, ranging from the biggest classics to the most unique and unexpected.
To the surprise of literally no one, chocolate is the product most tightly associated with love, at least romantic love. It’s not just due to Valentine’s Day commercialization, with heart-shaped Valentine’s Day chocolates becoming one of the inseparable features of the holiday. Notably, chocolate had been associated with love centuries before Valentine’s Day was a thing.
In fact, while in modern times, Valentine’s Day chocolates have become one of the symbols of romantic love, initially, it was associated with physical love rather than romance.
Chocolate consumption was popularized during the heydays of the Aztec Empire. The Aztecs, who consumed chocolate as an unsweetened beverage, believed it had medical properties. Increased physical prowess was among its health benefits.
The Aztecs weren’t entirely wrong, as technically, chocolate is an aphrodisiac. It contains phenylethylamine and serotonin, which are classified as mood boosters and have a mildly stimulating effect.
Chocolate’s transformation into the symbol of romantic love took place in mid-to-late 19th-century England. The idea of knightly romance and courtly love became particularly popular during the Victorian era, with lovers showering each other with cards and lavish gifts on Valentine’s Day. Savvy entrepreneurs paid attention. Among them was the British chocolatier Richard Cadbury, who started making fancy chocolate gift boxes, elaborately decorated with romantic imagery of flowers and cupids, in 1868.
Victorians, who adored anything ornate and intricately decorated, quickly flocked to the gift boxes and turned them into a staple Valentine’s Day gift. Ever since then, Valentine’s Day chocolates have become just as important an attribute of the holiday as red roses and heart-shaped cards.
While they cannot precisely compete with chocolate, strawberries are also often associated with love and romance. Chocolate-covered strawberries, for example, are often considered one of the go-to romantic gifts.
Interestingly, strawberries have been associated with love in one way or another for far longer than chocolate. In Ancient Rome, the berry was a symbol of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. Romans believed that Venus was responsible for creating strawberries, and form, color, and even texture were symbols of the goddess’s very essence.
The color red was strongly associated with gods in Ancient Rome and was often used in religious ceremonies and rituals. It was the color of strength, bravery, honor - and also of love and desire, making it particularly tightly associated with Venus.
Romans are also believed to be the first to associate the heart symbol with love: in reality, it was the shape of the silphium plant, a key component in love potions.
Strawberry’s somewhat heart-like shape, red color, and juicy texture (often associated with fertility, another aspect of Venus) made it a nigh-ideal symbol of love.
Oysters have also been considered one of the foods symbolizing love since ancient times. Though notably, the reasons why Greeks and Romans believed them to be “food of love” and why they’re considered romantic today are vastly different.
Greeks associated oysters with love because of their connection to Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. Born from the sea, Aphrodite was said to have emerged in an oyster shell and was nourished by oyster flash. This connection to the goddess gave oysters a reputation as potent aphrodisiacs.
This belief carried over to Roman Empire. The Romans often consumed oysters before or during large celebrations and banquettes to increase passion and desire.
On the other hand, today, few people know how oysters originally became associated with love (at least, the physical aspect of it). Nowadays, they’re associated with love, not because of their properties, but for a strong association with fine dining.
Oysters are considered one of the most indulgent foods in modern cuisine, a product not many people can afford on a day-to-day basis. Their association with luxury and their high price tag have turned oysters into one of the go-to meals for special occasions, including anniversaries and Valentine’s Day dinners.
Unlike the previous entries on the list, escargot doesn’t have any myths or legends (or chemical ingredients) that associate it with love, be it physical or romantic.
Technically speaking, escargot’s (cooked snail served in its shell with a garlic and butter sauce) reputation as a romantic food is primarily crafted by its birthplace. France is widely considered to be the most romantic country in the world, and Paris is often called the “City of Love.” As a quintessential French food, escargot has a few things going for it that give it a somewhat romantic connotation:
- For most, especially non-French, people, it’s a food for special occasions only;
- It has a reputation for being a delicacy and is tightly associated with fine dining;
- Like oysters, the snail meat texture (soft, tender, and buttery) is considered sensual and indulgent, a mood-setter for romantic dinners (as escargot is typically served as an appetizer).
Spaghetti is likely the most fun entry on this list: it’s associated with romance and love not because of any specific attributes of the dish itself but because of pop culture.
Have you heard of Spaghetti Kiss?
It’s a popular romantic media trope: two characters, attracted to each other, share a plate of pasta. While distracted by something or other, they accidentally start chewing opposite ends of the same noodle and chew their way into a kiss.
The 1955 Disney classic Lady and the Tramp invented the trope, where the two title characters accidentally kiss each other over a plate of Italian spaghetti and meatballs. While the cartoon might not be as famous amongst today’s youth as Toy Story, Frozen, or Zootopia, the internet-savvy generation has undoubtedly seen multiple iterations of the famous scene. It has, after all, been reenacted in numerous movies, cartoons, anime, and, of course, thousands and thousands of memes.
It also helps that Italy is also heavily associated with romance and love, arguably trailing only behind France. Many traditional Italian dishes often bear minor connotations with romance because it’s a popular destination for romantic getaways. Undoubtedly, many imagine how twirling Italian spaghetti pasta on a fork will lead to a spaghetti kiss with their loved ones when dreaming of romance.
Chili Peppers (And Spice Food, in General)
Spicy food is on this list for the same reason as chocolate and oysters: it has mild aphrodisiac qualities and has, thus, become associated with physical love and desire in multiple cultures.
Mexico, for example, is particularly partial to chili peppers. They’re believed to enhance the senses (including physical sensations) and increase desire.
Spicy foods are associated with physical desire and prowess in India and the Middle East. While heavy use of spice is of no surprise with these cuisines, notably, the levels of spiciness are increased in specific dishes often consumed during special occasions, such as weddings.
In Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand and Indonesia, spicy dishes are believed to make the body more susceptible to experiencing desire, while in certain African cultures, the increased desire is attributed to spicy food stimulating blood flow and warming the body.
If spaghetti became associated with romantic food due to Disney’s vast and overwhelming power (and internet memes; never underestimate the memes!), then avocados were turned into romantic food thanks to the consumption trend.
It’s not so much a romantic food as the ingredient of choice for romantic dinners among people who prefer sticking to “clean eating” even on special occasions.
Avocados have a mild and buttery flavor that easily pairs with multiple other ingredients, which makes incorporating them into various meals easy, be they sliced or smashed.
The internet is filled with recipes for hearth-shaped avocado toasts, pizzas, and tortillas, along with salads and pasta dishes clad in heart-shaped bowls. Seriously, there are even recipes for “healthy avocado desserts,” like cakes, ice creams, puddings, and chocolate truffles.
This versatility, in turn, makes it easy for health and fitness-conscious individuals to indulge in a romantic atmosphere without changing their diet. Which, in turn, has increased avocados’ association with romance, if only among a very specific group.
Heart of Palm
Heart of palm is another entry on the list, the romantic nature of which has been decided by modern consumption trends and not any specific traits or history associated with romance or love.
Instead, the heart of palm - a common ingredient in Asian cooking - has become the latest on the list of food items for special occasions, including date nights. In other words, it’s not that heart of palm symbolizes romance, but that it’s something that can denote love and affection because dishes cooked with it would only be shared with special people.
Firstly, the heart of palm is an expensive ingredient. It’s a specialty food item that is harvested from the inner core of certain palm tree varieties. It’s difficult to harvest and process, and it’s a highly perishable item, available for only short periods of time. These attributes, combined with its increasing fame and demand, lead to higher prices due to limited supplies and short availability periods.
In Western societies, its reputation as a specialty food item is also augmented by its exotic nature. Even among epicures, the heart of palm is not a well-known ingredient, which may lead to certain people perceiving it to be even more special and luxurious and a perfect fit for a romantic dinner on special occasions (like Valentine’s Day!).
Another food that owes its romantic reputation to Ancient Greek mythology. In many regards, pomegranates were to the Greeks what strawberries were to the Romans. While pomegranates weren’t associated with Aphrodite, they were associated with abundance, fertility, and - most importantly - indissolubility of marriage.
In Ancient Greek, red was strongly associated with power and authority, but also passion, desire, and fertility. The combination of its red color and multiple tiny juicy seeds made pomegranates a nigh-ideal symbol for a strong marriage, blessed with multiple children.
It’s also the reason why the pomegranate was the fruit Persephone ate. Eating pomegranate symbolizes her marriage ties to Hades, making their separation impossible.
In modern times, pomegranates’ association with love and desire is largely unknown, and they’re not particularly often regarded as romantic food. But that makes them all the better option to swap strawberries for this Valentine’s Day if you wish your gift to be more original and memorable!
Okay, so technically it’s not rose-as-food that is strongly associated with romance, but rose-the-flower. Especially the pink rose (symbolizing innocent love and gratitude), red rose (representing romantic love and passion), and yellow rose (symbol of platonic love and friendship).
But cooking with rose petals has a long history and tradition, especially in the Middle East, Persia, and South Asia. Rose water, which Persians invented by steeping the petals, is widely used to flavor traditional desserts like Turkish delight, baklava, halva, gulab jamun, and nougat, among others.
The rose petals themselves are also edible. They’re often cooked into jams, jellies, marmalades, and even soups. They’re also often used in their raw form as decorative pieces for cakes, though usually not eaten (which, by the way, is a waste, as rose petals are edible).
Interesting tidbit for the end: the sweeter the fragrance, the more flavorful the rose is going to be.