Yummy Bazaar is continuing the article series about the most frequently asked questions about gourmet foods and traditional ingredients.
And what better topic to compile answers to than the most pressing topic of this upcoming week - Valentine’s Day chocolates and all the pressures associated with getting your significant other (or friends, or beloved family members!) the perfect gift for the holiday?
What is a Valentine’s Day Chocolate?
Valentine’s Day chocolates are confectionery, usually specifically shaped or packaged in a way that has a clear association with romantic themes. Valentine’s chocolates are either shaped like hearts themselves, clad in heart-shaped boxes, or, at the very least, decorated in colors that have become associated with the holiday over the years - red and pink.
That said, while distinct visual features have become heavily associated with Valentine’s Day chocolates, it’s not to say these attributes (shape, package, colors, etc.) are mandatory attributes of a good Valentine’s gift. What is considered mandatory (more or less) is for Valentine’s Day chocolates to look like a gift. Gifting a loved one just a plain chocolate bar is considered non-romantic and insensitive, even if the chocolate bar in question is a high-quality gourmet-grade product. Festive looks are what sets Valentine’s Day chocolates apart from other chocolate confectionery. The packaging can be Valentine’s cliche galore (heart-shaped, red and pink, etc.) or more low-key, in muted colors, slick, and elegant. But it has to look like a special gift.
Why Do We Give Chocolate as a Valentine’s Day Gift?
There are two types of answers to this question: simple and a bit more complicated.
The simple answer is tradition. Chocolates, especially ones shaped and packaged in a specific way, have become a traditional and thus expected gift for Valentine’s Day. It’s a go-to gift most recipients expect to receive and an easy choice for gift-givers who don’t want to overcomplicate the process. A tried and tested option.
The complicated answer is a lucky combination of established stereotypes, favorable economic conditions, and good marketing. Chocolate had been associated with love since the time of the Aztecs, at least. The cocoa bean was turned into a beverage by earlier Mesoamerican civilizations, but the Aztec empire popularized its consumption. They were the ones that noted its qualities as an aphrodisiac, which started the trend of associating chocolate with physical love.
From the Aztec empire, the chocolate was brought to Spain and soon spread to the rest of Europe. Initially a luxury treat only affordable to the higher echelons of society, by the mid-19th century, it became affordable for the middle class. Richard Cadbury (yes, that Cadbury) decided to capitalize on the Victorian love of everything ornamented and started creating special gift boxes for different occasions, including Valentine’s Day.
As you can guess, his chocolate gift box became very popular, and the trend stuck.
What Do Valentine’s Day Chocolates Symbolize?
While there’s no definitive official declaration in any books on what the chocolate is supposed to symbolize, the cultural aspect of the gift has become so deeply entrenched in society that we can say that the symbolism has been decided by the masses.
Valentine’s Day chocolates, specifically, have become associated with romantic love, passion, care, devoted partnership, and happy life.
The belief is that when a person decides to gift their significant other a box of heart-shaped chocolates (or a heart-shaped box of chocolates), they do so with the intent to demonstrate that their love is strong, and they’re invested in seeing the partnership through.
A cynic would argue that these days chocolates symbolize nothing and are merely a traditional gift one doesn’t think much about. But it’s a gift one chooses to make their beloved happy, so we believe the symbolism still rings true.
How Did Chocolate Become Associated with Valentine’s Day?
Richard Cadbury, a Victorian entrepreneur, and chocolatier, started producing his chocolate gift boxes in 1861. Cadbury was one of the first to start making solid chocolate bars (before the mid-19th century, chocolate was primarily consumed as a drink), but he was not the first. He was facing rather steep competition from J.S. Fry & Sons, who were the first to sell both a solid chocolate bar and, then, follow it up with the first bonbons - filled chocolates with flavored centers.
Cadbury knew that if he were to take customers away from the competition, he needed to offer them something innovative his competitors couldn’t. And since he couldn’t beat them with chocolate products, he decided to focus on the packaging.
Tapping into the Victorian trend for everything ornate and beautiful, he started producing unique gift tins he called “fancy boxes” in 1861. The boxes were filled with chocolates, but they weren’t the focus. The focus was on the tins themselves - beautifully decorated with intricate, often embossed, designs.
In 1868, Cadbury decided to tap into the Valentine’s Day craze and made a Fancy Box specifically for this holiday: heart-shaped and decorated with images of roses and cupids. The masses found it both deeply romantic and useful (the heart-shaped boxes were often used as holders for romantic mementos). It took only a few years for the heart-shaped chocolate gift boxes to become the go-to Valentine’s Day gift and become associated with the holiday.
What is the Most Popular Chocolate on Valentine’s Day?
Entirely unsurprisingly, most Americans prefer to go with the ready-made option of heart-shaped gift boxes many companies produce specifically for Valentine’s Day.
Generally, chocolate truffles or bonbons are considered the classic choice for the Valentine’s Day gift box.
What is the #1 Best-Selling Chocolate? Is it a Good Fit for Valentine’s Day Gift?
The #1 best-selling chocolate confectionery in America is Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Overall, the world’s #1 best-selling chocolate bar is Snickers, while the best-selling chocolate tablet is Cadbury’s plain milk chocolate bar.
Neither of these chocolates is considered a traditional Valentine’s Day gift, but if packaged appropriately (ex., placed in a heart-shaped red box instead of bonbons or truffles), they can act as a perfectly valid gift!
In the end, whether or not the recipient of the gift likes the confectionery in question is what matters. If Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are your significant other’s favorite candy, they can make a good gift with some tweaking.
What is Luxury Chocolate? Is it the Same as Gourmet Chocolate?
Luxury chocolates are the high-end version of the traditional treat. The term is often used interchangeably with gourmet chocolate and sometimes even specialty chocolate. And while there might be a bit of a debate about whether all these terms describe the same chocolates, they often use similar enough specifications.
Luxury or gourmet chocolate is supposed to have a relatively high cocoa percentage in the content, but while the cocoa percentage often correlates with the “luxuriousness” of the product, it’s not the only attribute chocolatiers use to determine whether the product in question is genuinely gourmet-grade.
Producing luxury chocolate requires working with quality ingredients, adhering to specific preparation rules that render a smooth, creamy texture and flavor, and, some would argue, even a degree of artistry.
Chocolate truffles, especially hand-made ones, are often considered the ultimate luxury chocolate due to their smooth, creamy texture.
What are Chocolate Truffles?
Chocolate truffles are a confectionery made with ganache: a thick and rich cream made by mixing melted chocolate, dairy cream, and butter to create a smooth, thick, and heavy paste. The paste is then rolled into small balls (or other, less common shapes like cones or rectangles) and coated in cocoa powder, chopped nuts, coconut flakes, etc.
A chocolate truffle is not the same as a chocolate bonbon! Though they often look the same: small, bite-sized balls decorated with other ingredients. Bonbons are molded chocolates with non-chocolate centers, while truffles are made entirely out of chocolate cream.
Are All Chocolate Truffles Luxury Chocolate?
While chocolate truffles have become nigh-synonymous with luxury chocolates due to their thick, rich, and creamy texture, it’s often not the case.
Again, it comes down to ingredients: luxury gourmet-grade chocolate needs to be made with high-grade components like properly sourced cocoa that renders a smooth and creamy mouthfeel in the chocolate. While the amount of butter and cream that goes into truffles can somewhat mask the cocoa quality, it cannot fully compensate for the flavor profile. Luxury chocolate truffles have more intense, well-expressed chocolate flavor than cheap, mass-produced stuff.
Note: cheap and affordable are not the same. You can definitely find luxury chocolate for a reasonable price.
What is the Most Luxurious Chocolate in the World? What is the Rarest Chocolate in the World?
The question of luxuriousness can be debated, but if price, story, and artistry are all taken into account, one would argue that the Ecuadorian brand To’ak checks all the boxes.
Here are just some of its characteristics:
- It’s made with the nigh-extinct Ecuadorian cacao variety Nacional (its genetic lineage supposedly goes back at least 5,300 years). In fact, one of the primary objectives of the brand founders is to save Nacional variety from extinction;
- Each bar contains around 75% of cacao fiber;
- All cacao is sourced ethically from local Ecuadorian farmers (the official website claims that To’ak pays cacao growers the highest farmgate prices on the continent);
- The chocolate is produced in limited quantities;
- It has been critically acclaimed for its well-balanced, complex taste and smooth texture;
- It’s packaged in signature luxurious boxes;
- The average price for a 50g (1.76 oz) bar ranges from $55 for the “signature” series, to $190 for the “reserve” series, and to $450 for the “master” series.
Interestingly, To’ak’s Ecuadorian Nacional cocoa variety apparently isn’t the rarest. That honor seems to go to Criollo Heirloom cacao from Belize, which is used for Dancing Lion’s Xicolatl Bar (the price is around $45 for a 50g (1.76 oz) bar).
Which Affordable Chocolate Brands Taste the Most Expensive?
Lindt, Ghirardelli, and Perugina are widely considered to be some of the exemplary balances of taste, quality, and price you can get on the market today.
Each of these brands is widely lauded for producing relatively high-quality chocolate despite being mass-producers while keeping the prices fairly affordable for wide-scale consumption.
Is it OK to Gift chocolate to a Non-Romantic Partner on Valentine’s Day?
Yes, absolutely - as long as both parties are well aware of their relationship status. While Valentine’s Day chocolates are widely associated with romantic love, many people have used the occasion to exchange gifts with their friends.
Just make sure the recipient knows you’re giving the gift as a token of your friendship (maybe add a card?) to avoid misunderstandings and awkward situations.
Which Chocolate is the Most Reliable Gift? How Many Types of Chocolates are There?
According to various sources, there are either 4 or 7 types of chocolate (though 3 of these seven can be classified as a sub-type of one of the four major ones).
These types include:
- Milk chocolate;
- While chocolate;
- Dark chocolate;
- Semisweet chocolate (can be classified as a sub-type of dark chocolate);
- Bitter or bittersweet chocolate (can be classified as a sub-type of dark chocolate);
- Unsweetened or baking chocolate (can be classified as a sub-type of dark chocolate);
- Ruby chocolate (the newest addition to the list, it’s made with “ruby cocoa beans” and has a vivid pink hue).
According to the YouGov data, the majority of Americans (49%) prefer milk chocolate, but dark chocolate ain’t no slouch either, with over ⅓ (34%) enjoying it over the rest. Notably, these markers are approximately the same for both women and men.
Regarding assorted flavors, caramel, and nuts are the most preferred additions. Preference for caramel is slightly higher among young adults, with a slight decrease over the years, while preference for nuts slightly rises over the years.
So, if you don’t know what to get your significant other this Valentine’s Day, here’s some data to help you out!
Which Chocolate is Best for Valentine’s Day?
In all honesty? The one that’s your significant other’s favorite. So instead of getting readily assembled heart-shaped chocolate boxes that will be all the rage once Valentine’s is in full swing, simply get an empty heart-shaped box and fill it up yourself with your partner’s favorites.