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An illustration of a heart-shaped box of chocolate and some flowers.

Of chocolates and roses

By Pauline Oo

Published on February 14, 2005

On Valentine's Day, you can say, "Be my Valentine" or "I love you," or simply, "I care for you" or "I like you" in many different ways. But one way that's sure to melt a heart or provide those warm fuzzy feelings is giving chocolate and roses.

"Chocolate provides a good deal of pleasure, and sometimes that's what we want in our life--something to make us feel good," says food chemistry professor Gary Reineccius. "[And when you give chocolate for Valentine's Day], you're sharing something that's wonderful; better than gold. Gold, you look at. Chocolate, you enjoy."

According to the National Confectioners Association, chocolate is the favorite treat to give and savor for both men and women on Valentine's Day--more than 35 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate were sold on that day in 2004. Men, it reports, are likely to give specialty chocolates such as truffles, pralines, and caramels to a spouse or significant other on Valentine's Day, while women would choose milk chocolate or dark chocolate as gifts.

So, what exactly is it about chocolate that makes it so pleasurable? Reineccius says it's the fat content.

Did you know?

Richard Cadbury introduced the first "chocolate box" in 1868 when he decorated a candy box with a painting of his young daughter holding a kitten in her arms. Cadbury also invented the first Valentine's Day candy box.

The red rose is the favorite flower of Venus, the goddess of love, which helped give the rose its symbolic meaning.

"People like fat," explains Reineccius, who heads the U's Flavor Lab, a joint department of the College of Human Ecology and College of Agricultural, Food, and Environmental Sciences. "There's a reason why we eat it. It's the highest source of calories. We might look at it from an evolutionary standpoint--if we're out in the jungle or desert, the things that give us the greatest calories, give us the greatest probability of survival. There's no question that people like fat in fatty foods. And chocolate, of course, is almost half fat."

He says chocolate is essentially roasted ground cocoa beans--which are about 50 percent fat--sugar, vanilla, and lecithin, which is a plant- or animal-based emulsifier.

Caring for that rose

Tips from U horticulturist Deb Brown

* Recut each stem at an angle under a gentle stream of lukewarm water.

* Dissolve the enclosed packet of floral preservative in lukewarm water.

* Remove any foliage that will fall under water in the vase.

* Place your roses in a cool location, out of direct sunlight and away from radiators or air ducts.

* If your rose begins to "nod" or bend over prematurely, recut the stem and submerge the whole rose, horizontally, in lightly warm water for a few hours. Once the stem straightens out, put it back into the vase.

Hint: If you're looking for a rose with fragrance, choose the lavender-colored ones. "Red roses are clearly more popular, but if you're looking specifically for fragrance, it seems like those lilac-colored ones or those leaning towards purple are almost always quite fragrant," says Brown.

Though we can't eat it to save our lives, a rose has that same ability to delight our senses as a piece of chocolate. In 2004, we bought more than 175 million roses for Valentine's Day, according to the Society of American Florists. While men buy roses mostly for romantic reasons, women buy them for themselves, their mothers, daughters, sisters, and friends, in addition to their sweethearts.

"I don't think it's the fragrance [that draws us to the rose] anymore because most of the florist roses aren't terribly fragrant," says horticulturist Deb Brown, with the University of Minnesota Extension Service. "I think it's the ephemeral nature of roses--the fact that they are beautiful for maybe five or six days or a week--that adds to their mystique and allure. A bouquet of chrysanthemums, on the other hand, is kind of humdrum [because] it's going to last for two or three weeks."

The rose is the "quintessential" flower, adds Brown. "If you asked people to name a flower, I would bet you 99 percent of those you talk to would name a rose. People know roses, even if you know nothing about flowers. Take little kids, for instance, the rose is one of the first flower they learn of."