Back in 2016, one Lindsay Funston, an editor at Delish, posted a recipe video of a Tuscan-style chicken dish that quickly garnered a lot of attention. At the end of the clip, Funston’s video producer is seen trying the food and exclaiming, “I’d marry you for that chicken!”
Alas, the Marry Me Chicken was born.
Fast-forward to 2023, and the recipe has amassed an entirely new (younger) set of fans on TikTok, with folks swearing by the legitimacy of the dish’s name, detailing how the dish was rapidly followed by an engagement proposal.
And it wasn’t even all that original of a concept. A 2004 Glamour recipe for Engagement Chicken went viral nearly 20 years ago claiming the same thing — that a recipe for roast chicken elicited a marriage proposal.
Although social media has been flooded with countless versions of the recipe, the original still reigns supreme, featuring tomato paste, oregano, basil, heavy cream, Parmesan and a fair amount of sun-dried tomatoes.
The connection between the culinary and the psychological is a multifaceted, highly analyzed one: Studies regarding the best foods to eat to lift one’s spirits abound, as do others about the consumption of ingredients that may contribute to a general sense of well-being.
Clearly, what we eat affects the way we feel and act — but does what we feed others have the same effect? Even more specifically: Can cooking really convince someone to marry you? According to experts … sort of.
“Food has a lot to do with our emotions,” said Dr. Shae Datta, a neurologist and co-director of the NYU Langone Concussion Center. “Certain compounds in food also have certain effects on emotions.”
Take oxytocin, for example, which is actually often referred to as the “love hormone” and is released in spurts when kissing someone.
Datta explained that the consumption of foods like tomatoes, peppers, chocolate, avocados and fatty fish has been linked to increased levels of oxytocin, the same hormone that is released when getting physically intimate with somebody. It follows, then, that eating those ingredients might lead to more positive romantic dispositions, for example.
The Marry Me Chicken recipe, however, seems to have benefited from a trio of factors that together contribute to the success of the dish: the familiarity of the ingredients, the chemical makeup of the food, and a priming effect.
“Food carries a lot of historical meaning for a person,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Donna Peri. “Our experience of being nourished is most often connected to being nurtured, so nourishment and nurture are linked.”
The act of being fed something, especially a tasty, delicious and hearty meal, is more likely to foster the feelings of warmth and nourishment that we’ve been conditioned to feel since we were babies.
“It’s not called the Hook Up With Me Chicken, but the Marry Me Chicken, after all,” Peri said.
That familiarity goes a long way and, more than anything, may explain the link between romance and food.
“The part of the brain that’s connected to emotions basically activates the food cues,” Datta explained. “This is why when you eat a particular meal that your mom or grandmother cooked when you were a child, it evokes certain emotions and reminds you of the good times.”
On a cultural level, chicken is a pretty popular food: easy to find in many parts of the world and part of plenty of people’s diets. Lots of us regularly ate a chicken-based dish growing up, so any sort of meal containing the ingredient might prompt a gastronomically nostalgic experience.
The mere act of sharing a meal is an intimate one that is meant to encourage deeper relationships.
“That’s why people go out to dinner when getting to know someone on a date,” Peri said. “This recipe seems more of a home-y dish, so I would imagine it would foster feelings of connectedness and wanting to settle down.”
“It’s not called the Hook Up With Me Chicken, but the Marry Me Chicken, after all.”
But a link to the past isn’t the only reason experts suspect that the recipe has become such a hit throughout the years.
Just associating a name with an action may contribute to its becoming a reality, in a priming effect of sorts.
“If you call it the Marry Me Chicken and either cook it or eat thinking that afterwards, you’ll be more successful at dating, you’re setting up an expectation,” Peri said before making an interesting comparison. “If I walk into a networking event thinking that, because I’m wearing my lucky underwear, I am going to make better connections, I am priming myself to have that experience,” she said. “The expectations we have when going into a situation are very likely to inform our actions in the situation.”
Eating the chicken thinking that the meal will suddenly ignite a need to settle down may, for example, cause you to be more romantically predisposed toward the person who cooked the meal for you — a fact that will, of course, increase the likelihood of romance actually happening.
Cooking the dish with the assumption that your target audience will whip out a ring by dessert time may also change your disposition, indirectly convincing you to act in a more marriage-material manner.
After all, who can forget when Meghan Markle told the world that the moment she and now-husband Prince Harry fell in love involved roasting a chicken for dinner? There is clearly something about poultry that tickles all of our amorous senses.