Eating food can be one of the most sensual of our daily experiences. But can food actually help us fall in love? Do aphrodisiacs really exist? And if they do, what qualifies a food as an aphrodisiac? It’s that time of year to set our sights on love, and it is just possible that food can help you find your way there. With the right ingredients, ambiance, and intention, your next experience with food – be it with another or alone – just may become your next great object d’amour.
According to our FDA, there is no such thing as an aphrodisiac, especially in the “drug” part of “food and drug administration.” But even in the food arm of the agency, the health educators say there is no scientific evidence to support claims that foods, such as oysters, are aphrodisiacs. History, however, tells a different story. From lore to myth, and even in our civilized society, we learn that many foods are said to be aphrodisiacs. Be it their suggestive shape or their arousing aromas, their texture or how they organically affect our physical body, the foods that lead the list of natural aphrodisiacs are sources of energy or they release pheromones and cause our brain to focus on feelings of love or sexual arousal.
While scientific research has yet to establish that food produces pheromones, research does support that certain foods increase libido and stimulate attraction. The Smell and Taste Research Foundation in Chicago investigated the impact of smells on arousal of men and concluded that "the direct connection between odors and sex response cannot be denied." The aromas of lavender and pumpkin pie were leading among those that elicited a response. Other smells that caused a reaction in men included black licorice and donut, orange, cola, buttered popcorn, and vanilla especially enticed older men.
Since Aphrodite rose from the ocean standing in an oyster shell, oysters have long been suspected to have an aphrodisiac effect, but it may be their high level of zinc, and not Aphrodite at work (zinc is essential for a healthy reproductive system). Almonds and asparagus, notoriously famous for their aphrodisiac-like shape, are high in Vitamin E, which again is essential for a healthy reproductive system. Chocolate contains phenylamine, which is associated with raising mood and libido. And, chilies contain capsaicin, commonly found in spicy foods and curries, which releases endorphins. Endorphins, in turn, can arouse desire.
And the list goes on. Developing an emotional bond with your food isn’t that hard, and often is instantaneous. Whole foods, well-prepared and plated foods, often at first sight are so appealing that we desire or even begin to crave them. Creating a physical bond with your food is equally important. Food is meant to be touched, smelled, and played with. It is meant to be cut into and chewed. It is meant to linger in the mouth and its flavor and texture savored before you take another bite. While science may tell us that foods react chemically with our physiology, our emotions tell us that the simple act of savoring our food is an equal aphrodisiac equal to the physiological response. Just ask anyone who watched 9 ½ Weeks; the meal shared in front of the refrigerator is etched in their memory.
The good news is you don’t have to be Mickey Rourke or a Master Chef to create a meal-experience. Our homes and grocery stores are packed with ingredients that in themselves are considered to be aphrodisiacs. The most simple and obvious is fruit.
Everything about fruit – from their fragrance, shape, touch, texture (and of course, taste) – creates an opportunity to savor each bite. Consider serving a simple bowl of fruit to a loved one. A simple bowl of sweet grapes – grapes that need to be plucked and then rolled off finger tips into a waiting mouth; bursts of sweet juice on the palate – is an easy way to create a simple pleasure. Further enhance your experience by adding some pears with their luscious curves, or bananas that have to be delicately peeled. Strawberries require lips to close around the fruit as it’s eaten and add a burst of bright color to your bowl.
With these ideas in mind, gathering the ingredients for your own aphrodisiac fruit bowl becomes fun and playful. Apples, apricots, bananas, cherries, coconut, dates, figs, grapes, mangoes, papayas, peaches, pears, plums, pomegranates, raspberries and strawberries are celebrated in erotic literature throughout the world. Choosing the fruits you’ll use and deciding how to serve them to your dining companion should be done with creating the highest sense of pleasure in mind.
Beyond fruit, chocolate, almonds, champagne, and oysters are a more elegant route. They require no cooking and, like fruit, invite your senses to become completely engaged in the act of eating. But, don’t discount the importance of ambiance, including the soundtrack that rounds out the eating experience. If you are serving oysters (or any seafood, for that matter), a recording of the ocean and the sounds of the sea playing in the background can heighten your palates perceptibility. It also transports you to another place emotionally than say, snowy central Pennsylvania.
Remember that it is not so much the ingredients as it is the experience of savoring each bite, with each of your senses. While science will continue to argue whether a true aphrodisiac exists in the food world, giving yourself over to the pleasure of food on Valentine’s Day is something all of us can agree to. It’s simply love.
Published in In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desforback to top