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Tessa Burch-Smith, assistant professor of biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology at the University of Tennessee, explains how chocolates and flowers—two of the most common Valentine’s Day gifts—have chemical components designed to attract others.



ANDREA SCHNEIBEL: Welcome to Science Minute, a research audiocast by the University of Tennessee. I’m Andrea Schneibel.

Today is Valentine’s Day. If you bought chocolates and flowers for your loved one, you should know that these gifts hold more than just sentimental value, says Tessa Burch-Smith, assistant professor of biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology at the University of Tennessee.

TESSA BURCH-SMITH: Flowers and chocolates are some of the best examples of the biochemical and metabolic prowess of plants.

SCHNEIBEL: Take chocolate, for example. Chocolate is made from cocoa beans, and for years, scientists have tried to find what exactly makes it so desirable.

BURCH-SMITH: Chocolate contains approximately 300 different chemicals. Now, interestingly, there’s a compound called anandamide that the brain produces that’s associated with good feelings. And chocolate not only contains this compound, but it also stops your body from degrading the anandamide that it naturally makes.

SCHNEIBEL: And the perfume in flowers also has a function in nature.

BURCH-SMITH: Floral compounds seek to attract pollinators to ensure that plants reproduce. And I suppose these volatiles must also work on humans, since they are the mainstay of the multimillion-dollar perfume industry.

SCHNEIBEL: To create pleasurable feelings in your partner, a combination of fragrant flowers and tasty chocolates are a safe bet, backed by science. For the University of Tennessee, I’m Andrea Schneibel with Science Minute.

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