One of my all-time favorite Roanoke Times feature stories was written 10 years ago this month by my late, great predecessor on the food beat, Nancy Gleiner. The sensual photographs taken by former RT photographer Josh Meltzer made the story even more memorable. I recall that we had a beautiful blond model come in and pose with clumps of grapes and bunches of asparagus artfully arranged to cover what needed covering.
The article was simply titled “Aphrodisiacs,” and was, of course, about certain foods believed to stimulate romance and sexual desire. The origin of the word is the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. Although some of these foods have been considered aphrodisiacs for centuries, mainstream medicine doesn’t subscribe too much to that kind of thinking.
But mainstream medicine doesn’t subscribe to a lot of thinking that can still be fun. And who knows? Maybe a plate of raw oysters and a chocolate lava cake on Valentine’s Eve really can work some magic. Even if they can’t, they are still delicious!
If you want to put together a full buffet of aphrodisiacs as a surprise treat for your honey next weekend (after all, it will likely be cold outside and warm by the fire inside), consult the list below, which I borrowed from Nancy’s 2000 article. Here’s my suggested menu: An appetizer of raw oysters or oysters Rockefeller (which incorporates spinach, one of the aphrodisiacs), grilled salmon drizzled with truffle oil, sauteed asparagus with fresh garlic and chocolate brownies with walnuts and a dash of real vanilla extract.
For more recipe ideas, check out these books: “Sex on a Plate” by Sharon Esther Lampert, “The New InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook” by Martha Hopkins and Randall Lockridge, “Fork Me, Spoon Me: The Sensual Cookbook” by Amy Reiley, or “The Seduction Cookbook: Culinary Creations for Lovers” by Diane Brown. (Don’t blame me; I didn’t make up the titles.)
Read on for a long list of aphrodisiacs and some truly fascinating history:
Chocolate: Montezuma, the Aztec emperor, drank 50 goblets of hot chocolate a day for the stamina he needed to satisfy his many wives. The sensuous stimulant also caught on among Europe’s royal courts, known for their tendency toward scandalous intrigue. Today, the average American consumes 10 to 12 pounds of chocolate annually. Recently, scientists found in chocolate traces of phenylethylamine, a substance released by the brain when in love.
Oysters: During the time of the Roman Empire, oysters enjoyed a randy reputation, which only increased over the ages. Casanova is said to have been a believer in oysters, eating 50 of them raw every morning in the bath together with the lady he fancied at that moment. Roman emperors paid for them by their weight in gold. Best served au naturel, perhaps with a little fresh lemon juice or Worcestershire sauce.
Grapes: The Greek god Dionysus was not only the god of wine but also the god of fertility and procreation. Naturally, even unfermented grapes were ascribed stimulating properties. For the French, a romantic evening without wine would be a major faux pas. On the other hand, too much of a good thing might not serve the purpose well. Alcohol is actually a depressant, and so, as the porter in Shakespeare’s Macbeth observed, it “provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.”
Asparagus: The Chinese used asparagus to treat infertility, and its evocative effect did not escape notice by the ancient Arabs and Romans. As in all matters of love, patience is rewarded: Resist cutting asparagus stalks for the first three years and the plants will produce this invigorating delicacy for up to two decades.
Garlic: Its notorious odor makes it one arduous food Aphrodite would advise both members of a couple to consume at the same sitting. At one time, Palestinian grooms wore a clove in their buttonholes to ensure a successful wedding night.
Mint: Middle Easterners and Europeans have documented mint’s libido-enhancing properties and incorporated it into everything from lamb and tabbouleh to tea and ice cream. Americans even use it in soaps and toothpaste.
Apples: Scholars still debate whether the object of Adam and Eve’s transgression was, in fact, an apple. Ancient Scandinavians believed apples to be the rejuvenating food of the gods, and ancient Greek lovers exchanged them as presents.
Thyme: Apicius, the first-century Roman cookbook author, wrote of thyme’s propensity to stimulate amorous instincts. The ancient Egyptians agreed and Europeans still trust thyme in matters of the heart.
Celery: The ancient Greeks and Romans documented the medicinal virtues of celery. Since then, everyone from the Chinese to the Haitians have associated the firm light green stalks with their suggestive magic. Cream of celery soup quickened French pulses during the 1700s, as Madame de Pompadour, the mistress of Louis XV, attested, and the soup remains a favorite in France today.
Spinach: Popeye didn’t win Olive Oyl’s heart with just his bulging biceps. Maybe she knew of this super food’s ribald reputation. Steaming brings out its lush color and flavor while preserving its supply of potassium, iron and vitamins.
Carrots: The Greeks used carrots to cure sexual ills and the Arabs served them with milk sauce for the same purpose. Recent research showed that the ancients were not far off base. Carrots are a prime source of vitamin A, a necessary nutrient in the production of all sex hormones in men and women. Carrots supply an estrogenlike compound that stimulates the sexual appetite in both genders. Well, look at rabbits!
Artichokes: Some food lovers find the artichoke’s thorny exterior hard to resist. The leaves and heart have been attributed with powers from restoring health to inducing euphoria. When you dip the fleshy leaves in clarified butter or a delicate vinaigrette, you will understand.
Truffles: The ancient Romans adored truffles, for which they traded gold and jewels. Napoleon ate truffles before meeting Josephine in amorous battle. These scarce fungi thrive in very few locations and only during certain months. Those who unearth and sell truffles train pigs and dogs to scent them out and carefully guard their hiding places.
Licorice: You either pick out the black jelly beans from the candy dish or you ignore them. Licorice is a love-hate herb. Vatsayana included this perennial herb in several beverages in the “Kama Sutra,” the ancient Hindu text on lovemaking. In very high doses, licorice can raise blood pressure. Then, again, so can other things.
Fish: The French still follow the lead of Henry IV of France, whose chef kept a potful of sauteed eel hot on the stove all day in case the king needed to fortify himself before an amorous encounter.
Walnuts: The ancient Romans used walnuts in fertility rites. This included the practice of throwing walnuts instead of rice in marriage ceremonies. Walnut preparations occasionally have been used in France and Italy to increase desire.
Legumes: Legumes, including beans, have supplied the world with protein and sexual vigor since time began. The vitalizing tendency of legumes concerned St. Jerome, the Croatian scholar, who forbade nuns to eat them.
Vanilla: Not long ago, women’s magazines in this country announced that the scents to which the male libido reacts most favorably are the homey fragrances that waft from the kitchen – with vanilla at the top of the list. The cosmetics industry steeped itself in a multitude of vanilla products: perfumes, soaps, bubble baths and lotions.
Crayfish: It was probably the French who spread the word in southern Louisiana, where folks boil their “crawfish” with enough red pepper to burn the lips and make the eyes water – a sure sign of love.
Honey: Attila, who firmly believed in honey’s stimulating power, drank so much mead (made with honey) on his wedding day that he died of cardiac arrest. Like love, the flavors of honey range from delicate (acacia) to mild (clover) to bold (wildflower).
Source: The Roanoke Times/ File 2000