Why is cooking so romantic? February 11, 2019
Springsteen once sang, “Everybody’s got a hungry heart.” But how about a loving stomach? What is it about someone whipping up a gourmet feast for us that sends us all weak at the knees? If someone is a dynamo in the kitchen, we go as gooey as caramel sauce on a hot day. But why exactly?
The relationship between cooking and romance is a long-documented one, whether on film (Julia & Julia, No Reservations, Chocolat, the spaghetti scene from Lady and the Tramp, but to name a few), in the literary world (Babette’s Feast, My Life in France) and even in song; whether chronicling a relationship whose origins lie in al fresco dining (Billy Joel’s rock opera “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”) or songs of love for food itself (“Eat It” or “Peaches”).
Not only that, all it takes is a cursory Google search of “romantic recipes” to be hit with a barrage of results so big option paralysis will quickly set in. When broken down though, this is basically just supply and demand. People have romantic needs and many believe the solutions lie in the culinary world. So, why is it the “Top 10 Most Romantic Recipes” and not “Top 10 Most Romantic Mini-Golf Courses,” for example? Let’s go exploring…
Scientifically speaking, smell is hugely linked to emotion and memory, more than any other sense. This is due to the close proximity between the olfactory nerve (the one for smelling) and the amygdala and hippocampus, two parts of your brain strongly concerned with emotion and memory.
Food, for the most part, smells. Often quite good. Thus, cooking a familiar dish can promote fond memories if the smell associated with it is connected to someone you love. Perhaps a loved one cooked it for you or taught you to cook it, or you cooked it together, or you cooked it for them, or you taught them to cook it, or… You get the picture! The point is, if the smell of that meal you’re cooking triggers fond memories with a loved one, you’re a big chance to cook that over and over again. On top of that, taste and smell are inextricably linked, so the good feelings just keep on a-comin’.
Still focussing on the brain, in chemical terms, cooking and romance are connected because the reward hormones you experience from loving or being loved and satisfying hunger by eating are the same (i.e. dopamine and norepinephrine) and make us feel good. Perhaps you eat to capture the happiness love has given you or maybe love fills the hunger in your stomach. How better to provoke a feeling of joy than doubling your reward hormones by cooking with someone you love?
You don’t even need to be a decent chef. A study on the evolutionary roots of romantic relationships found that it isn’t the quality of the food that counts, rather, much like giving a gift, the thought. What your partner is impressed by isn’t necessarily that you managed to perfectly flambé the tequila-infused fajitas, but the time and effort invested in preparing and cooking the meal. It’s considered an “inconvenience display,” and that you put yourself through the process means more than what you put on the plate.
Speaking of what’s on the plate, however, there are always aphrodisiacs to consider. If you’re new to the term, these are ingestible substances said to stimulate the love senses. These include foods as common as avocado, chocolate, honey and as perplexing as pine nuts and pumpkin seeds. While the jury’s still out on the effectiveness of these things, couldn’t hurt to try, could it? Get creative, it might even have a placebo effect.
Cooking is creative and creative endeavours create a sense of achievement upon completion, and the communication required in collaboration to get to a creative goal spawns strong bonds from knowing you got there together, any couples who’ve ever constructed a set of drawers together can attest to this.
Cooking in close quarters with someone is quite an intimate version of this experience and being guided through the correct way to whisk something, for example, complete with your partner’s arms around you, steering you through the motions, brings back memories of Demi Moore and Patrick Swayze (the pottery wheel scene in Ghost, anyone?).
Like anything creative, everyone has their own little methods with cooking and learning together, and sharing tips and tricks can be a fun way to share personality with one another and create more fond memories. Also, teaching a less than skilled kitchen partner and watching their charming little mistakes may be considered “cute.”
And while we’re on cute, who doesn’t enjoy a bit of a mid-cook smooch or flicking each other with tea towels? Adorable!
And if unfortunately, you realise you’re as compatible as custard and mustard and things go kaput, F∙R∙I∙E∙N∙D∙S reminded us that our good friend ice-cream, an ever-present romance, will always be there to fill the void.
Happy Valentine’s Day <3 !