Chocolate has a long history with romance, love, and sex. The Aztecs believed it to be an aphrodisiac, with Montezuma supposedly drinking 50 cups of chocolate a day. (And hey, the guy did have many wives and lovers.) When Europeans returned to their homeland, they brought chocolate and its purported benefits back with them.
Supposedly Cassanova drank chocolate daily to increase his amorous vigor. And the role of chocolate in modern books (and their subsequent films) such as Chocolat and Like Water for Chocolate perpetuate the connection of the delectable sweet concoction and feelings of love or lust.
Science indicates that there may be at least a little something to chocolate being recognized as a food for love. It stimulates the release of nitric oxide, which increases blood flow and lubrication throughout the body. Chocolate also leads to an increased production of endorphins as well as dopamine, serotonin, and phenylethylamine—neurotransmitters all known to boost moods. While none of that translates into chocolate being an aphrodisiac, there is evidence that chocolate can at least make you feel a bit better.
In the past century, chocolate has become synonymous with Valentine’s Day. The industrial revolution meant that chocolate could be mass produced, which decreased the costs associated with chocolate. By the 1930s, chocolate’s appeal was far-reaching, being advertised to children and of course being touted as an exquisite gift choice.
Fortunately for chocolate-lovers in Asheville, plenty of options exist to feed the beast! One of those is Kilwins, whose owner knows a little something about romance. She’s the author of four personalized romance novels. In fact, it was her romance writing that ultimately led Marcy Gallagher and husband, Tom, to Asheville. While living in Florida about 10 years ago, she entered a romance writing contest for yournovel.com. Her short story won and as a prize she received a stay at the Grove Park Inn. A few years later, Marcy (who writes under the name Marcy Thomas) and Tom decided to start a new life, so they opened a Kilwin’s franchise in Asheville and then another in Black Mountain.
Marcy says with authority that love knows no boundaries. “Chocolate is great for everyone,” she says. “While we certainly see people buying chocolate for a romantic partner, we see a wide range of demographics and circumstances. We might see a grandfather buying chocolate for his grandkids, or a parent bringing in the kids so the kids can buy for their friends. And we see a lot of single people who buy for friends. Valentine’s Day definitely isn’t just for romantic love but for friendship, too.”
Create new motions of the flesh.
And cause them long for you know what,
If they but taste of chocolate.
– James Wadsworth
Marcy adds that chocolate is a great way to treat yourself, too. “We certainly deserve something for ourselves,” she says. “It’s nice to see people honor themselves and treat themselves with chocolate, which is a special, feel-good thing.”
Chocolate-dipped strawberries, fine chocolates, and confections are popular at Valentine’s Day, Marcy says, along with anything adorned with a heart symbol. The holiday presents itself as a nice winter boost for the many Asheville chocolate shops and bakeries. “It comes right in the middle of the winter doldrums,” Marcy says. “Valentine’s is definitely one of our best weeks in winter but it still doesn’t compare to most weeks in summer and fall when people are out and about and more and more tourists are in town.”
Andrew and Susan Chisholm of Chocolate Gems in downtown Asheville concur with Marcy’s analysis. “January is especially slow in our business,” Andrew says. “People are coming off of the overindulgence of the holidays and have made New Year’s resolutions to lose weight and watch what they eat. Plus with cold weather, people are just out less. So it’s nice to have a little pop in sales come the middle of February.”
Susan says that their biggest seller is variety boxes. “We offer boxes ranging from four pieces all the way up to 96 pieces,” Susan says, adding that around 30 pieces is a normal maximum. “We used to sell bigger boxes pretty regularly,” Andrew adds. “Since 2007, when problems started with the economy, we’ve seen the same number of boxes being sold each year but the sizes just aren’t as consistently big as they used to be.”
The Chisholms both say that they get a plethora of customers at Valentine’s. “Some are regulars and will just say they need a box for their spouse and we know what to put together for them,” Andrew says. “You can tell some people have had it planned and just wait until the 13th or 14th to get it fresh. Others come in clearly as a last-minute purchase. And a few people have special requests. Maybe they want us to make something special for them. For those people, the request needs to come in early. We typically can’t do something like that with just a day or two’s notice.”
Chocolate Gems also serves as the chocolate maker for the Biltmore Estate, creating the chocolates you’ll find at the Carriage House, the winery, and the inn. The reasons they serve Biltmore are the same reasons the Chisholms encourage you to buy their chocolate this month. “We get the best chocolate that we can find and make it all here,” Andrew says. “And we do our best to make the best chocolate around.”