With Valentine's Day coming up, it's time for chocolatiers to shine around Whistler. What other holiday does the dark, sweet, milky delight play such a big factor in?
Don't forget about Halloween.
OK, so maybe this isn't the chocolate holiday. However, the treat serves a different purpose on Feb. 14. This time chocolate isn't stuffed in a sock, or used to silence children, this time it's used to signify affection.
"Chocolate has always been a tradition associated with romance. You go back as far as the Aztecs, they used to think chocolate was an aphrodisiac," said Mark Wittenberg, one half of the local company Whistler Chocolate. "I don't think the science is good (on that)... (but) I do think the science is much more conclusive that chocolate is an antioxidant. I think as an aphrodisiac, that's more psychological than anything."
There are studies that attempt to prove the relationship between chocolate and love, but it really doesn't matter if there's a concrete link, because it's so entrenched in the tradition of Valentine's Day. Giving chocolate as a gift is here to stay.
Whistler Chocolate doesn't make specific heart-shaped products for the season, but it still sees increased sales around this time of year for its organic chocolate bars, particularly the dark sea salt one. Is that because the darker, bitter chocolate is a favourite of passionate lovers? Actually, Wittenberg thinks it's a different effect on the heart people are looking for.
"Because our bar is fair trade and organic, if people are looking for that, they'll tend to be more health conscious," he said.
"So their bias will be towards dark chocolate, just because it contains more cocoa and less sugar than a milk chocolate. All of our dark chocolate bars have over a 72 per cent cocoa content and the higher the cocoa content, the better it is for you, because it has more antioxidants and less sugar."
Formed over 10 years ago with wife and partner Valerie Sicotte, Whistler Chocolate makes certified organic and fair trade chocolate bars that retail across the country. However, most of its sales are in the Whistler and Vancouver area, where the company's eco-friendly practices are valued most. Even the wrappers are bio-degradable, made from a wood fibre.
Gifting a high-end, heart healthy chocolate is an understandably nice gesture, but some romancers may want to take things in a more creative direction. If you're looking for some more whimsical chocolate ideas, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory might have the answer you're looking for.
"We don't take ourselves as serious as other chocolate stores," said Scott Grieve, owner since 2003. "We have a little more fun with it. You can see that in our products, you can see that in the experience you can have in our store. It's just different that way. The chocolate itself is certainly high quality, but chocolate is just one of the many things we do. We're doing caramel apples, ice cream, fudge, all kinds of stuff; and we're having fun with it."
One of the creative options Rocky Mountain offers for Valentine's Day, is long-stem strawberries, dipped and swirled in chocolates and served like a bouquet of roses. It covers two of the biggest expectations of the holiday; that you will give your partner both chocolate and vegetation.
Because of the last second approach most of us take to the holiday, Grieve said it is one of the most fun days to be in chocolate retail. He can tell a lot about what stage a relationship is at based on how specific an individual's order is, or how much time they spend on it. Someone getting an assortment of milk chocolates may be very early in the courting stage, while someone who picks up a jar of chocolate body paint is certainly a lot farther along.
No matter what stage you're at though, he said, there's no reason to stress out about your chocolate choices for your Valentine.
"At the end of the day, it's hard to go wrong, and it's really just a gesture first and foremost. I don't think anyone is going to get upset if they get dark chocolate versus milk chocolate or vice versa," said Grieve.
But if someone is looking to unload a chocolate gift that doesn't fit their tastes, you can gladly send it my way. Even if it is the chocolate body paint. Chocolate is chocolate, and having one more day to gift it away can't be a bad thing.