Valentine's Day food, the way to the heart

Food and courtship are intimately related. Ever since Adam offered Eve the forbidden fruit, we have been wooing one another with food.

By Jeremy Ryland


"There is no love sincerer than the love of food."

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)


For as long as man has pursued woman –  or occasionally vice versa –  food has played a special role in the art of love, especially the art of courtship. A shared meal is at the very heart of courtship. We start in some crowded neutral “safe” location such as a café, bar or disco, then moving to the more romantic dinner at a restaurant followed by “your place or mine” for an intimate dinner and possibly breakfast!


And when things are serious, we are invited to dinner with the parents – a ceremonial meal with the prospective families where manners, speech and behaviour can be assessed.


The Romantic Meal is a form of therapy throughout life: we crave good food, good love and emotional security.


And of course, Valentine's Day is one such romantic celebration. Today, Thursday 14 February 2019, is Valentine’s Day. A day to celebrate love and romance.


Valentines Day is based on the Roman pagan fertility celebration – the Feast of Lupercalia. During the feast, young girls would write love notes and put them into a barrel; the boys drew them out and then gave chase. An early form of Hallmark greetings cards!


The day is named in honour of Saint Valentine, a Roman priest who secretly married couples against the orders of Emperor Claudius II, the men could avoid the military draft. He was unfortunately executed on 14 February, the day we celebrate lovers. Valentine's Day was proclaimed in honour of St. Valentine on 14 Feb 496AD by Pope Gelasius but was later revoked by Pope Paul VI in 1969.

Aphrodisiac foods

Many foods have special romantic associations: the obvious one being chocolate, particularly when accompanied by roses!


Chocolate contains caffeine, a stimulant, and phenylethylamine, the hormone responsible for the feelings of love.


Herbs such as basil and rosemary have an intoxicating aroma that entice the sense of smell.


And let’s not forget red fruit like strawberries; and tomatoes, which are also known as love apples.

“A number of rare or newly experienced foods have been claimed to be aphrodisiacs. At one time the quality was even ascribed to the tomato. Reflect on that when you are next preparing the family salad”. 

Jane Grigson 


An aphrodisiac is a food, drink, drug, scent, or device that, promoters claim, can arouse or increase sexual desire, or libido. A broader definition includes products that improve sexual performance.


Foods are attributed aphrodisiac qualities by their chemical content, by their evocative shapes and colours and by association. Named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexual love and beauty, the list includes oysters and scallops, anchovies, scallops, caviar, truffles, liquorice, mustard, asparagus, carrots, bananas, almonds, vanilla and hundreds of other items.


However, according to the US Food and Drug Administration, the reputed effects of so-called aphrodisiacs are based in folklore, not fact. In 1989, the agency declared that there is no scientific proof that any aphrodisiacs work.


Regardless, whilst not so politically correct today, men often associate body parts with food such as peaches and melons. Women are not usually so graphic, but still associate the body with food; eyes and almonds, skin with milk, coffee or chocolate.


Many food analogies imply cannibalism – we would love to eat our lovers – “you are good enough to eat”. We call our lovers “honey”, “pumpkin”, “sweety pie”, “cupcake”, “mon petite chou (cabbage)”.


Food is sensual and mood enhancing. Food is emotional, it can affect our mood and our mood can affect the food. In the movie “Like Water for Chocolate” (1992, Miramax), the central character, Tita, frustrated by her unrequited love for Pedro creates food that is vibrant and sensual, imbued with her feelings of longing, frustration, rebellion and love, so that it affects everyone who eats it. 


The best way to a lovers heart is a good old-fashioned romance. Love and sex are built on generosity – as is cooking and nurturing. We cook for our lovers, we feed our lovers, we share food together.


Anticipation is of the essence! Set the scene: with flowers, perfume candles and soft lighting.


Partake of a meal prepared with passion.  Eat with your hands (asparagus, oysters) and share your meal. Finish with a sensational dessert and good coffee.


Above all, don’t eat or drink too much. Romance does not work on a full stomach, and many of us tend to fall asleep after a big meal and if not, it can simply be uncomfortable!


A romantic dinner on Valentine’s Day… in fact any day of the year… now that’s food for pleasure.


"Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly."

M.F.K. Fisher