A dozen roses might be traditional Valentine's Day eye candy, but one of the quickest ways to the heart is chocolate. While the sensuous flavor could be a prelude to love and marriage, suitors can pledge a healthy heart and a sense of well being to their beloved as well.

Eating chocolate releases endorphins in the brain, inducing a warm inner glow. Another benefit, according to the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, is that antioxidants found in cocoa help ward off heart disease. But the biggest bang from theobroma cacao, literally "food of the gods," may be chocolate's key ingredient, phenylethlamine, the "love chemical." Phenylethlamine is produced naturally in the body and releases dopamine in the pleasure centers of the brain. Add another over-the-counter dose of chocolate and voila! Instant bliss.

If wooing the object of your desire is your sole intention this Valentine's Day, chocolate on its own could lead to a fine romance. But imagine fresh Louisiana strawberries dipped in Belgian chocolate. Beautiful hand-dipped chocolate strawberries from Joey's Specialty Foods come in three flavors: dark, milk and white chocolate. At Joey's, baker Virginia LeBlanc can inject the strawberries with Frangelico or Nocello, hazelnut and walnut liqueurs, and spell out a love message in icing. At Maison de Chocolat, owner Dawn Vo packages her chocolate-covered strawberries as if they were long-stemmed roses. (Vo also offers sugar-free chocolate.) Because of their fragility, hand-dipped chocolate strawberries are special-order items ' after all, shouldn't Valentine's Day be special?

For more information, call Joey's (503 Bertrand Drive) at 237-3661 and Maison de Chocolat (1042 Camellia Boulevard, Suite 7) at 984-5158.

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