More than $1 billion is spent on chocolate for Valentine’s Day, according to JLL Corp., a New Jersey gourmet coffee retailer. Apparently originating with the Mayan word xocoatl and derived from the Aztec word cacahuatl, cocoa or chocolate was consumed early on only as a beverage. The original hot cocoa recipe was a mixture of ground cocoa beans, water, wine and peppers. Legends from many cultures claim that chocolate instills strength, health, faith and passion.Contrary to popular belief, Valentine’s Day isn’t only about the ladies. A survey by the National Confectioner’s Association, Vienna, Va., found that men (25 percent) are more likely than women (23 percent) to select candies such as truffles, pralines and caramels. Men also are more likely to select dark chocolate, whereas women think milk chocolate is the sexiest candy to give a spouse or significant other. Both men and women desire a romantic, private setting for their special Valentine’s Day. Nearly 40 percent rated “in front of the fireplace” as the most popular place to share candy. For women, the second best place is after a nice dinner. Not surprisingly, men preferred enjoying the treat “in bed.”According to a new report on chocolate by Packaged Facts, 67 percent of U.S. adults eat chocolate candy. It is so popular that no single demographic group stands out as having higher-than-average consumption rates. In terms of dollar gains, gourmet chocolate is quickly gaining wide acceptance. Gourmet chocolate consumers are less likely to indulge in non-healthy treats in general. In addition, the premium market is being bolstered by research indicating that chocolate -- particularly the dark variety -- may have health benefits. This led to an onslaught of small marketers introducing organic and exotic boutique candies. “Chocolate as health food has almost a fantasy quality, says Don Montuori, acquisitions editor of Packaged Facts. “But in fact, functional chocolates are hitting store shelves in record numbers, and if you believe the labels, these sweets will help alleviate PMS symptoms, increase energy, boost levels of omega-3 fatty acids and add to your fiber intake.” Greek scientists say they have demonstrated for the first time how chocolate improves the function of blood vessels, allowing them to dilate and thereby preventing the formation of potentially damaging clots, reports Food Ingredients First. Charalambos Vlachopoulos of Athens Medical School told the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology that eating 100 g of dark chocolate improved function in healthy young adults for at least three hours.