The connection between food and romance has become a cliché, especially around Valentine's Day when even the most desultory couple manages to build a castle with a box of chocolate. But the connection is in fact more profound than a once-a-year phantasm. In fact the connection is deeply rooted in history and seems virtually universal.
Perhaps the most vivid demonstration of a direct link between food and romantic emotion is Laura Esquivel's novel (and subsequent film), Like Water for Chocolate. In this magical realist tale of a turn-of-the-20th-century Mexican family, Tita, the youngest daughter, communicates her emotions to her family through the food she makes for them. As she prepares the food, passion, longing, anger or frustration are transmitted via the food to the people who eat the dish, who then experience similar emotions. When Tita falls in love with Pedro, the Quail in Rose Petal Sauce she serves at a family celebration induces lustful feelings in her sister Gertrudis, who abruptly leaves the ranch while making love to a soldier on the back of a horse. When Tita's older sister, Rosaura, marries Pedro instead, Tita sorrowfully prepares a wedding cake, which throws her guests into paroxysms of longing and melancholy before they become violently ill.
Of course, this novel is pure fantasy, but the idea that food directly stirs our emotions has a long history. The Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans all entertained folk wisdom that various foods could induce sexual arousal, and the medical science and philosophy of the day was used to support such beliefs. We get the word “aphrodisiac” from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of romantic love. According to the myth, Aphrodite was born from the sea and came to shore on a scallop shell accompanied by Eros, thus giving birth to the idea that shellfish can arouse sexual desire in lovers. Aphrodite also thought sparrows were particularly lustful and thus Europeans for many centuries considered sparrows to be aphrodisiacs—demonstrating that it doesn't take much to persuade people when the promise of sex is involved.