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Milestones

There's romance and health in a heart-shaped box of chocolates

The taste of strawberries can be sweetened when they are covered with chocolate.
The taste of strawberries can be sweetened when they are covered with chocolate.

Valentine's Day has a long tradition of chocolate being a big (and romantic) part of the day. HolidayInsights.com reports that 75 percent of women buy the most chocolate throughout the year.

But on Valentine's Day? Seventy-five percent of the men make the most purchases for Valentine's Day. So how did chocolate become such a romantic gift?

Food of the Gods

The Aztec Indians believed chocolate was an aphrodisiac. When Christoper Columbus discovered America, he also found chocolate, bringing it back to Spain as a tribute to Queen Isabella. That's how chocolate became popular among the European aristocracy.

The chocolate-Valentine's Day link

By the 1800s, the Cadbury Brothers began selling chocolate in England to non-aristocrats. Richard Cadbury designed the very first heart-shaped box to hold chocolates on Valentine's Day in 1861, a tradition we enjoy today, one I really like.

The largest chocolate consumers in the world

Nielsen survey data shows that Americans spent $21.5 billion on candy in the 52 weeks ending April 30, 2016. The biggest chocolate sales day during Valentine's week is Feb. 13; the second biggest sales day is Feb. 15. Americans (321 million people) eat more chocolate than all of the Asia-Pacific (1.5 billion people) countries combined. That's amazing and says a lot about how much we love our chocolate.

But Americans aren't the biggest chocolate consumers in the world. Switzerland is where Lindt and Toblerone chocolates are made and the Swiss eat more than 20 pounds of chocolate a year. Austrians and Germans eat about 17.5 pounds and Americans eat under 10 pounds.

Chocolate is a sweet habit

Sure we want to eat healthy. I know a lot of people who can pass up chocolate and I wish I was one of them. But I'm not and there are studies and theories about why chocolate is such a sweet habit.

Cocoa butter (that melts at a little bit lower than our body temperature) in chocolate gives it a smooth, creamy consistency that produces that sweet melt-in-your-mouth moment. It's pure ecstasy for any chocoholic.

According to a University of Michigan study, people who eat chocolate produce natural opiates in their brains that soothe nerves and makes them feel good. Chocolate naturally contains caffeine and sugar. It also contains phenylthalymine — it's what makes our hearts beat a little faster and gives us a feeling of alertness — that produces a chocolate "high" that some people say gives them the feeling of being in love.

That could be a big reason chocolate is thought of as a romantic gift — many women receive chocolate on their birthdays and yes, Valentine's Day. If you don't believe that, watch a little television and you'll see chocolate commercials from late January through Feb. 14.

Chocolate is healthier than you think

There have been studies that suggest chocolate, especially dark chocolate, is good for you. Flavanoids and antioxidants in dark chocolate can lower the risk of heart disease and cancer. So have a chocolate cookie with your tea because this beverage has those same antioxidants.

Chocolate (high in saturated fates and sugars), eaten in moderation, is good for you. And that's good news for chocoholics like me.

I don't know too many people who don't like chocolate. It's no secret that I love it — add mint flavoring and I'm in chocolate heaven. With Lent coming up, I might not give up a food (Is chocolate considered a food? If not, it should be!) that's so beneficial..

So if you're giving your loved one chocolate for Valentine's Day, you should smile because you're giving a wonderful gift — health benefits in a romantic heart-shaped box of chocolates!

CHOCOLATE COVERED STRAWBERRIES (foodnetwork.com)

Makes 1 pound; prep time: 20 minutes

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped

3 ounces white chocolate, chopped

1 pound strawberries with stems (about 20), washed and dried very well

Put semisweet and white chocolates into 2 separate heatproof medium bowls. Fill 2 medium saucepans with a couple of inches of water and bring to simmer over medium heat. Turn off heat; set bowls of chocolate over water to melt. Stir until smooth. (Alternatively, melt chocolates in microwave at half power, for 1 minute, stir and then heat for another minute or until melted.) Once chocolates are melted and smooth, remove from heat. Line sheet pan with parchment or waxed paper. Holding strawberry by stem, dip fruit into the dark chocolate, lift and twist slightly, letting any excess chocolate fall back into bowl. Set strawberries on the parchment paper. Repeat with the remaining strawberries. Dip fork in white chocolate and drizzle white chocolate over dipped strawberries. Set strawberries aside until the chocolate sets, about 30 minutes.

HOT CHOCOLATE FUDGE CAKES (myrecipes.com)

Makes 10 servings; total time, 30 minutes

3/4 cup flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened

2/3 cup granulated sugar

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup egg substitute

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 (2.6-ounce) bar dark (71 percent cocoa) chocolate, finely chopped

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Sift together flour, cocoa, espresso powder, baking powder, and salt. Place butter in large bowl; beat with mixer at medium speed 1 minute. Add granulated and brown sugars, beating until well blended (about 5 minutes). Add egg substitute and vanilla, beating until well blended. Fold flour mixture into sugar mixture; fold in chocolate. Divide batter evenly among 10 (4-ounce) ramekins; arrange ramekins on a jelly-roll pan. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or up to 2 days. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Let ramekins stand at room temperature (10 minutes). Uncover and bake at 350° for 21 minutes or until cakes are puffy and slightly crusty on top. Sprinkle evenly with powdered sugar; serve immediately.

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