This article is part of our Special’s Week series, The Science of Romance.
Chocolate has always been an essential element of love. We can see the central presence of chocolate in traditions as well. In Turkish culture, when two people are getting engaged, it’s customary to buy chocolate on a silver tray alongside a bouquet of flowers. In the past, chocolate was used as a love potion by high-class women in the New Spain.1 Hence, it is apparent that there is a clear connection between chocolate and display of affection in the society that sustains across time and cultures. In this article, we will share with you three important subcategories of love and how it connects to chocolate.
Love consists of three subcategories being lust, attraction and attachment.2 As the feeling of attachment, leading to long term connections, depends on the oxytocin and vasopressin levels2; it still requires further research on chocolate’s effect on these hormones and their release in the body to make any connection. There is a common belief that chocolate is an aphrodisiac and it has been seen to have positive effects on women sexuality.3 As lust is the feeling created by the reproductive hormones,2 it could be said that lust is affected by chocolate to some degree. When it comes to attraction -regulated by dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine-, the situation changes.2 So, we will continue the article by investigating how love by chocolate affects attraction. (To learn more about differences between lust, attraction, and attachment, please watch The science of sex, love, attraction, and obsession.)
One of the chemicals found in chocolate is phenylethylamine.4 In a study by Meredith Irsfeld et al., phenylethylamine have been discovered to exist in small concentrations in chocolate and its mentioned that this chemical can cause an increase in norepinephrine.5 As mentioned previously in this article, this is an essential hormone for attraction. Another way phenylethylamine connects to attraction is through dopamine. Phenylethylamine is discovered to occur in the brain simultaneously with dopamine as it gets produced in the dopaminergic neurons.6 The dopaminergic pathway is essential in the body for “regulat[ing] cognitive functions, including emotion, motivation, reward, and addictive behaviors”.7 It is also seen that when phenylethylamine levels reduce in the body, it leads to depression and bad mood changes.6 In three studies, phenylethylamine injected directly to the brain has shown increase in reproductive behaviour among animals.6 Even though all this information seems like it could confirm the contribution of chocolate to love, it has been also shown that brain injection and consumption differ quite a lot in the sense that oral consumption cannot contribute to the feeling of attraction the same way brain injections do.6
It is quite hard to certainly conclude whether chocolate induces the feeling of love, as there is conflicting evidence on chocolate affecting one subcategory of love and not another. Further research needs to be conducted to confirm whether the effect on the dopaminergic pathway leads to any significant change in the brain chemistry that it alters one’s mood and hence sense of attraction. A study could also be conducted on whether chocolate has any connection to attachment in love through oxytocin and vasopressin. From our current knowledge, it seems that there are connections between components of chocolate and hormones related to feeling of love, however, these connections may not always be causations of feelings.
- Caso L. A Culture of Cacao and Chocolate From Mesoamerica to Today’s Traditional Producers. ReVista. 2020 Fall. https://revista.drclas.harvard.edu/a-culture-of-cacao-and-chocolate/
- Wu K. Love, Actually: The science behind lust, attraction, and companionship. SITN. 2017. https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2017/love-actually-science-behind-lust-attraction-companionship/
- Salonia A, Fabbri F, Zanni G, Scavini M, Fantini GV, Briganti A, Naspro R, Parazzini F, Gori E, Rigatti P, et al. ORIGINAL RESEARCH—WOMEN’S SEXUAL HEALTH: Chocolate and Women’s Sexual Health: An Intriguing Correlation. The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 2006;3(3):476–482. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2006.00236.x
- Park A. Fact or Fiction: Chocolate is the ultimate love drug. The McGill Tribune. 2017. https://www.mcgilltribune.com/sci-tech/chocolate-is-the-ultimate-love-drug-021417/
- Irsfeld M, Spadafore M, Prüß DBM. β-phenylethylamine, a small molecule with a large impact. 2014.
- Smit HJ. Theobromine and the Pharmacology of Cocoa. In: Methylxanthines. Vol. 200. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg; 2011. (Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology). https://link.springer.com/10.1007/978-3-642-13443-2. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-13443-2
- Luo SX, Huang EJ. Dopaminergic Neurons and Brain Reward Pathways. The American Journal of Pathology. 2016;186(3):478–488. doi:10.1016/j.ajpath.2015.09.023