Eating for Love - Food as Aphrodisiacs

Foods thought to be aphrodisiacs have appeared in nearly every culture, every country and among all peoples for thousands of years. Modern wisdom is mixed on the subject – most people will tell you that they completely agree with the Food and Drug Administration’s assertion that there is no such thing as an aphrodisiac, while at the same time planning on quaffing as many oysters as possible with the object of their affections.

Valentine’s Day is imminent – and an email question got me doing some research on some foods that might be considered – uh, helpful – on this particular holiday. I’m not going to argue on whether or not they exist, simply give some helpful information so you can cook according to your own beliefs. Aim. Hoped for result. Whatever. Whether or not you decide they work is up to you and your results. Uh….okey dokey then.

The aphrodisiac comes from Aphrodite – the Greek Goddess of love and beauty. Because Aphrodite was born by popping up naked from the sea foam, apparently the Greeks decided that most seafood was lust inducing. Go figure.

They can be classed into three main categories:

1. Those that use sympathetic magic – meaning the physical resemblance of the food is suggestive.

2. Those that have chemical properties which act upon the libido when ingested, or which increase energy or lower inhibitions. Beer goggles anyone?

3. Those which act upon the psyche – those that make someone feel sexy or have sexually connotation through association or memory.

Here is a list of what I came up with – I did not include drugs, perfumes, lotions (and I didn’t want to know about those), or anything else I didn’t feel was ingestible. How you use this information is totally up to you. Please read responsibly. However, what I will do, is pull this list and as my little Valentine to you, give you a recipe that will maximize your – chances. Just because. Kisses!

So check out Chocolate Ginger Banana Trifle

· Alcohol: Alcohol is not truly an aphrodisiac. What it does do is lower inhibitions and put you in a really good mood. That right there might lead to trysting. However, because of the sedative properties, it seriously reduces performance. So you may find that it merely leads to getting all dressed up and having no where to go.

· Asparagus: This is one of the visually suggestive foods. Traditional Indian medicine suggests it increases blood flow to pertinent parts of the body, while the Chinese herbalist will tell you that it increases love and compassion. In the 1800’s, French bridegrooms were served asparagus so that the marriage could more successfully be consummated. It also contains a lot of Vitamin E, which is supposed to stimulate sex hormones. However, while it might taste mighty good, it’s very high in fiber, which serves as a laxative, and is thought to have diuretic properties. I’d approach with caution.

· Avocados: Aztecs called the avocado tree a ‘testicle’ tree, apparently because the fruits grow in pairs. They forbade virgins from going outside during the avocado harvest, apparently to prevent untoward behavior toward the trees. The avocado is considered an aphrodisiac because of this apparent resemblance.

· Banana: Yes – the appearance is why the banana first became thought of as an aphrodisiac. However, it does contain the enzyme bromelain, which can enhance male performance. It is also high in potassium and B vitamins, which are said to be necessary for production of the sex hormones.

· Basil: Hindu culture claims that basil resembles female sexual organs. Really?

· Carrots: The ancient Greeks considered the phallus-shaped carrot to be a medicine rather than a food, and it was first used as such. However, the medicine was to treat sexual functionality.

· Caviar: The caviar claim to aphrodisiac fame is in the fact that it is high in zinc, as are oysters, which is thought to increase male performance. I think it’s because if someone spends that much on food, the recipient will be impressed.

· Cinnamon: I found tons of references to cinnamon as an aphrodisiac, but they all seemed to boil down to the fact that it just smells good. I did find one statement that spices 'heat the body with their warmth’, and that it’s the scent Queen Sheba used to snag King Solomon.

· Champagne: Until recently, true Champagne was difficult to obtain, and could be hideously expensive. Hence part of its association with celebrations and special occasions. It falls into the third category of supposed aphrodisiacs – those with associations. It certainly does seem happy. Otherwise, see Alcohol – above.

· Chilies: The chili contains capsaicin, and the spicy varieties are well known to trigger the release of endorphins. This can certainly lead to a natural high, and capsaicin can also raise the heart rate – making your heart pound, so to speak. This is a food that falls into the second category – those that release chemicals in the body thought to improve sexual function or desire.

· Chocolate: There were some European monasteries that actually banned chocolate – although whether it’s because it contains a natural sedative which also lowers inhibitions or because it also has a stimulant (thought to increase the desire for physical contact) is anyone’s guess. It IS known to contain phenylethylamine, a substance produced naturally in your brain when you fall in love. Quite possibly the reason that women must have chocolate.

· Cloves: Men in Southeast Asia consider the shape of the clove to be suggestive and therefore think of it as an aphrodisiac. Indonesian legend follows this thought.

· Fats: This one is actually serious – The choice of the fats in one’s diet is directly related to the health and performance of the heart, as well as the chance of obesity. It is certainly well known and medically documented that a healthy circulatory system goes in tandem with more healthy sexual performance. Meaning – if you are keeping your choice of fat intake reasonable, and keeping your weight down, chances are your libido will not only be stronger, but your performance better. The better choices? Go with olive oil, walnut oil, canola oil. Keep your intake to a tablespoon or so every day. This one is almost a no-brainer. Healthier people are more confident, and confidence is sexy. The brain and body both of a healthy person is more primed for love. Duh.

· Figs: It’s the shape of the fig which is considered suggestive, therefore the Greeks thought of it as an aphrodisiac. They apparently had quite a party centered around its harvest season.

· Ginger—Awwww – women wearing the white blossoms are so alluring, that ginger must be a stimulant, right? Thank the Egyptians for that.

· Ginseng: I found references to ginseng as an aphrodisiac, but couldn’t quite find why, other than a mention that it makes you want physical contact. I did discover however that it contains arginine, so see the granola entry, below.

· Granola: The amino acid arginine can lead to increased circulation, which can result in greater male performance, and a greater response in women. Arginine can be found in granola, nuts and seeds, dark greens and green vegetables, garlic and ginseng.

· Lobster: Other than having been steeped in the bathwaters of Aphrodite, lobster’s claim to aphrodisiac fame seems to be that it’s expensive. It is naturally high in protein, B-12 and zinc (see caviar, above), and is low in fat. At least until you bring on the drawn butter.

· Mint: So here’s what happened. In Greece, Persephone, queen of the Underworld was married to Pluto. A little nymphette named Mente caught his eye, and Persephone wasn’t in a generous mood. Persephone turned Mente into a bush. Pluto thought the bush was beautiful and even better – it smelled really good. So he fell in love with the bush. Oh snap, Persephone. I am also blatantly ignoring all the ridiculously obvious puns in this one.

· Mussels: See Lobster and Caviar, above.

· Nuts: We’ve learned by now that anything high in zinc, thought to increase male performance, is thought to be an aphrodisiac. Nuts are a good example. They’ve been used since the second century Greek physician Galen touted having a hundred pine nuts every night before bed.

· Papaya: Papaya is like soy, in that it is estrogenic – it contains compounds that mimic the female hormone estrogen. I’m not sure this is as much an aphrodisiac as a medicine. Folk remedies in many cultures like it to promoting female health, and it’s used for pregnant and nursing mothers to ease childbirth and increase milk production.

· Puffer Fish: The fugu or puffer fish is thought to be not only a delicacy but an aphrodisiac in Japan. If not prepared absolutely correctly, the smallest bit can kill. The brush with death which comes from eating fugu is considered to also heighten a certain sexual thrill. Yikes.

· Oysters: Not only are oysters high in zinc which I’ve now mentioned several times, but the oyster is thought to have a resemblance to female sexual organs. In addition to that, there are some species of oysters that can change their sex from male to female and back Ancient Romans apparently thought this triumvirate of qualities (boo – bad history nerd pun) was a surefire way to incite wild lust.

· Radish: Egyptians thought that the spicy bite of a radishes’ taste meant that it was sure to increase sexual desire.

· Salmon: See caviar, mussels, oysters and lobster, above.

· Soy: Soy is an estrogenic, and is truly considered a medicine as well as a food. Soy has a 3000 year history of cultivation, and can mimic the effects of estrogen if eaten in sufficient quantities. It also contains, which help female performance (for a change!). There is some evidence that soy can also improve prostate health for men.

· Truffles: Madame Pompadour ate truffles in order to increase her desire for her lover, France’s King Louis XIV. Note – she did it to increase her desire for him. Not sure how that worked out in the long run. For centuries, because of their musky aroma, truffles have been considered an aphrodisiac of the highest power. It is a known fact that while women can clearly detect a musky aroma distinct to the black truffle, most men cannot.

Almost every food you can think of has been considered an aphrodisiac by someone, somewhere. Which leads to a pretty obvious conclusion – it’s all in your head. If that’s in the right place – then anything you eat with the one you love will be attractive! So aphrodisiacs exist – if you want them to.

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