Korea Times

Chocolate and Valentine’s Day: how did they become synonymous with each other today?

Columbus, Cortes, and Cadbury are some of the familiar names instrumental in spreading the love for chocolate across the world

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2017, 3:33pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2017, 3:47pm

By Yun Suh-young

Korea is a country that obsessively celebrates Valentine’s Day, but ironically consumes very low amounts of chocolate per person annually.

According to data released by the Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation (aT) Monday, Koreans annually consume 607g of chocolate per person which works out to 8.7 chocolate bars weighing 70g each. This is a slight increase from 7.9 bars in 2011, yet far below the top consumer Switzerland with 9kg per person annually. The top 10 chocolate consumers are Switzerland, Germany, Ireland, England, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Netherlands, the U.S. and France, according to Euromonitor’s 2015 statistics.

The fact that Europeans are the highest consumers of chocolate is an interesting fact to take note of, considering chocolate’s long history dating back to ancient Maya.


History of chocolate

Chocolate’s main ingredient cacao is known to have been first cultivated in the Mesoamerican region, notably in Mexico and the rest of Central and South America. The domestication of cacao trees is recorded to date back 3,000 years. The origin of cacao in the form of food dates back 1,500 years to ancient Mexico where the Olmecs began drinking cacao in the form of a watery beverage by grinding the cacao fruit into powder and adding water to it. They called this “xocolatl” or “cacahuatl” meaning cacao with water.

The Mayans and the Aztecs were known to have been particularly fond of “cacahuatl” due to its effectiveness as an energy booster. The drink was treated preciously as a “gift of God” and consumed only by the ruling classes. They savoured the drink with added chilli pepper, cornmeal, vanilla and honey. Aztec’s king Montezuma is said to have believed that the drink acted as a sexual stimulant and drank 50 glasses a day to boost stamina.

Other than its nutritious function, cacao beans were also used as currency to pay for tax or “tributes” in areas ruled by the Aztecs.

The Europeans’ first encounter with chocolate was when Christopher Columbus brought the cacao to Spain while travelling to the Americas for his fourth time during the late 15th century. He brought the cacao beans from Yucatan of Maya into Europe but wasn’t greeted with enthusiasm at the time.

It wasn’t until Hernan Cortes of Spain who conquered the Aztec Empire and brought the cacao beans again to Europe in 1520 that chocolate gained popularity. After Cortes’ introduction of the beans to the Spanish court and its drinking methods, the beverage quickly became a court favourite. The fervour quickly spread across Europe in countries such as France, Italy, Portugal and Britain and within a century, chocolate established its foothold in the region.

The new craze for chocolate among the ruling classes in Europe subsequently created a thriving slave market. During the 17th to 19th centuries, the English, Dutch, and French colonised and spread cacao plantations in Mesoamerica and brought them to Europe. Due to Mesoamerican workers dying from disease, the jobs were mostly done by African slaves.

Nowadays, most of the cacao production is done in West Africa as the African slaves brought the cacao beans to their country upon their return. Currently, roughly two-thirds of the entire world’s cacao is produced in this region, 43 per cent sourced from Ivory Coast.



Modern-day chocolate

The bar chocolates that we now consume are the creations from the Industrial Revolution. The production of chocolates heightened during the period due to new technologies and methods invented by the Europeans.

In 1828, Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten created a press to remove about half the natural fat (cacao butter) from chocolate liquor, which made it cheaper to produce and more consistent in quality. This machine-pressed chocolate became instrumental in the transformation of chocolate to its solid form.

In 1875, Daniel Peter invented milk chocolate by mixing powdered milk developed by Henri Nestle. In 1879, the texture and taste of chocolate was further improved when Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine.

By 1868, Cadbury was manufacturing boxed chocolates in England and in 1893, Milton Hershey soon began the career of Hershey’s chocolates with chocolate-coated caramels.


Chocolate in Korea

Chocolates were first introduced in Korea during the late Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) under its final ruler, King Gojong. The Russian ambassador’s wife is said to have sent a gift to Empress Myeongseong which was the first introduction of chocolates to Korea.

By 1968, Korean companies such as Dongyang and Haitai started producing chocolates. In 1975, Lotte Confectionary produced Korea’s first chocolate bar.



Chocolates are known to be abundantly nutritious as its main ingredient cacao consists of elements such as polypenol, theobromine, and calcium.

Polyphenol improves blood circulation to the brain and boosts the brain function, helping prevent dementia. Cacao has twice the amount of polyphenol than red wine. It helps reduce blood pressure and prevents cardiovascular diseases.

Theobromine softens the cerebral cortex and muscles and relaxes the body. It helps improve concentration and thinking skills.

Calcium strengthens the bones and caffeine stimulates brain activity and increases concentration. It also stimulates a diuretic effect and helps excretion of bodily waste.

Phenethylamine in cacao helps the nerves calm and has antidepressive effects, which is why eating chocolates makes people feel better when they’re feeling gloomy.


Chocolate and Valentine’s Day

Since when did chocolate become associated with Valentine’s Day?

The connection of chocolates to Valentine’s Day was born out of purely commercial bonanza.

During the 19th century, various confectionaries were eager to sell more chocolates.

Richard Cadbury, founder of the chocolate company Cadbury’s, invented “eating chocolates,” a deviation from the drinking chocolates, and packaged them in lovely boxes shaped like hearts in 1861. The boxes were saved by consumers to be used to send love letters.

In the U.S., Milton Hershey began covering his caramels with sweet chocolate in 1894. In 1907, Hershey produced tear-dropped shaped “Kisses,” the name coming from the smooching noise during production.