Aphrodisiac Foods by Lela Rabie. An edited version of this article was published in the South African Journal of Natural Medicine magazine.
Aphrodisiac: 1719, from the Greek ‘aphrodisiakos’ which means, ‘inducing sexual desire’ from ‘aphrodisios’, pertaining to Aphrodite the Greek goddess of love and beauty.
Since the ancient Greek civilisations we as humans have been looking for that magic potion or substance which would render us more attractive to our desired one or peak our own interest and abilities in the bedroom.
Food, a basic human need, has also become a way to tantalize and delight, whether it be through taste, smell, texture or actual nutritional benefit. Various cultures have some surprising ideas on what ignites the flames of desire, think about powdered rhino horn, Spanish fly (powdered beetle) and dried bits of seals or tigers. Here, I have chosen a few more commonly available and conservation-friendly aphrodisiac foods to explore.
Possibly the best-know of aphrodisiac foods, it is said that the legendary Casanova had 50 fresh oysters for breakfast every morning, in the raw, so to speak. Nutritionally oysters contain zinc and selenium, both of which help with testosterone manufacture in the body. Zinc is also an important nutrient for male prostate function. Tests have found that the high amounts of D-aspartic acid and N-methyl-D-aspartate in raw oysters, increase testosterone levels in male rats, however, there is no evidence to suggest the results would be the same for human subjects. The appearance and texture of fresh oysters are considered by most to be the secret to their aphrodisiac status. Some oysters also change their sex from male to female and back and this likely has given rise to the opinion that these treasures of the sea allow one to experience the feminine and masculine sides of love.
Perhaps not the most obvious of aphrodisiac foods, the Aztecs and Mayans used to eat these fruits to enhance sexual desirability, the Aztecs called it ‘Ahuacat’ or ‘testicle tree’ and it is a traditional remedy for erectile dysfunction. Nutritionally, one can’t go very wrong with avocadoes, they lead all fruits in beta-carotene content and have more potassium than bananas. The sugar content in an avocado actually becomes less as it ripens and avocadoes have more protein, magnesium, potassium, folic acid, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, panthothenic acid, Vitamin E and Vitamin K per ounce than any other fruit. High in fat, the good news is that the fat in avocadoes is mostly the ‘good’ unsaturated kind which does not raise blood cholesterol. 1
The Catholic priests in Spain clearly agreed with the Aztecs as they forbade their parishioners to partake of this fruit. Whether its aphrodisiac properties are fact or fiction, a starter of slightly ripe avocado slices layered with thin slices of a good Camembert cheese and drizzled with a sweet balsamic vinegar, all garnished with freshly ground black pepper, probably wouldn’t harm the romance of your evening!
Truffles: Considered by the Romans and Greeks to be an aphrodisiac, the musky scent of truffles is said to stimulate and sensitize the skin to touch. Truffles contain androstenol, a pheromone found in male underarm sweat, which may in part give rise to their claim to fame as an aphrodisiac food. These delicacies come in two main varieties, black truffles from Perigord in France and white truffles from Alba in Italy. Black truffles need to be slightly cooked and white truffles are usually eaten raw, sliced paper thin. At around $600 per pound, truffles are one of the pricier aphrodisiac foods but then, who can put a price on love?
Alcohol: In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the drunk porter at the gate quips the following when describing the effects of alcohol: ‘Lechery, sir, it provokes and unprovokes. It provokes the desire, but takes away the performance.’ The porter has a point, in moderation alcohol lessens inhibitions and bathes most companions in a rosy glow but in excess it can have a disastrous effect on an amorous evening. The secret? Stick to one glass of champagne with your oysters so you can indulge a little more later on.
Chocolate: It is said that the Aztecs called chocolate, ‘nourishment of the Gods’ and there are only a few among us who would disagree. Often cited in surveys as being many womens favourite feel-good food, there is actually a surprising amount of scientific back-up to chocolates mood enhancing properties. Chocolate contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which also occurs naturally in the brain. During orgasm PEA reaches peak levels and administering PEA increases dopamine, which stimulates the pleasure centres in the brain. PEA is also similar to amphetamine and can have similar effects such as increased excitement and giddiness. Chocolate also contains tryptophan and anandamide. Tryptophan is used by the brain to manufacture serotonin, which can produce feelings of elation, in fact the drug Ecstacy works by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Anandamide (which means internal bliss) binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and mimicks the effects of cannabinoid drugs, for example, a sense of well-being, euphoria and heightened sensitivity. PEA and anandamide may interact with the stimulants caffeine and theobromine found in chocolate and with each other. The effect of these interactions can be sexually stimulating. Cacao also contains two N-acyl-ethanolamines (NEAs), these slow down the breakdown of anandamide and so prolong its effects.
In the movie, 'Chocolat', the character played by Juliet Binoche, enchants an entire village with the magical properties of chocolate, who knows? Perhaps this is not such a far-fetched idea after all?
Some other aphrodisiac foods:
Nutmeg: The nutmeg tree is a wide evergreen, native to the Spice Islands of Indonesia. Nutmeg has been used medicinally and as a spice since 700BC. Mace and nutmeg are two spices from the same fruit, with nutmeg being the dried kernel and mace the dried shell which surrounds the seed. Nutmeg is sweeter, more delicate and more aromatic than mace. In some Asian countries, nutmeg has been prized as an aphrodisiac for centuries and it is believed to impart strength and enhance sexual prowess. Nutmeg contains myristicin which is a component of 'the love drug', MDA or ecstacy which can produce a hallucinogenic effect.
Chilli: Capsaicin, a substance found in chillies can give the body a temporary high. The body's reaction to eating strong chilli is similar to feelings experienced during sex, for example, increased sweating, circulation and heart rate.
Strawberries: Erotic literature describes these as 'fruit nipples'. Strawberries are high in Vitamin C and are easy to eat with your hands. These sensuous fruits leave a delicious taste in the mouth and a sweet scent lingering on the breath.
Figs: An open fig is thought by some to emulate the female genitalia and this is believed to be a sexual stimulant. In Italy, Black Mission figs are served in a cool bowl of water.
Asparagus: In the 19th century, three courses of asparagus were served to bridegrooms on their wedding day due to this foods reputed aphrodisiac powers. Whether or not these powers are real or imagined, remains a matter of personal opinion as there are few facts to support this belief.
Nutrients for Sexual Vitality:
In order to maintain healthy sexual function, there are some nutrients the body needs regularly.
Vitamin C is an anti-oxidant which helps protect sperm from free-radicals. Food sources are: chilli peppers, tomatoes, citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli and spinach.
Vitamin E helps with the formation of sex hormones and sperm and can be found in asparagus, peas, spinach, nuts, eggs and grains.
Vitamin A is essential for the formation of sperm and sex hormones, food sources of this vitamin are broccoli, papaya, eggs, pumpkins, carrots, apricots, tomatoes and dandelion greens.
Vitamin B6 decreases the risk of erectile dysfunction and helps to combat symptoms of PMS, it can be found in oats, beans, wheat germ, yeast and bananas.
Vitamin B12 deficiency can contribute to impotence and infertility, it can be included in the diet by eating meat, shellfish, fish and eggs.
Folate is an important nutrient for the development of sperm, it helps to prevent birth defects, facilitates the production of dopamine and can be found in beans, dark green leafy vegetables and in grains.
Calcium helps reduce PMS symptoms and builds strong bones, it is found in sardines, brazil nuts, tofu, almonds and seaweed.
L-arginine is important in facilitating erections and vaginal lubrication, food sources are meat, seeds, grains and nuts.
Niacin, this nutrient could enhance sexual flush and tactile sensation and is found in dates, asparagus, beans, avocadoes, peanuts, fish, lean meats, peas and broccoli.
Pantothenic acid may improve endurance and plays a role in the formation of sex hormones, it can be found in beans, broccoli, molasses, poultry, nuts, eggs and beef.
Selenium, a deficiency of this important nutrient has been linked to miscarriage in pregnant women and to infetility in both sexes, food sources of selenium are brown rice, garlic, eggs, meat and Brazil nuts.
Thiamin, boosts energy and can be found in beans, seeds and wholegrains.
Zinc is a nutrient which helps prevent PMS symptoms and deficiency can lead to miscarriage in pregnant women, zinc is also important to sperm and testosterone production and can be found in meat, fish, shellfish, eggs, pumpkin seeds, garlic, spinach and wholegrains.
Magnesium, amongst other functions, magnesium helps with preventing cramps and other PMS symptoms. A relaxing nutrient it can be added to the diet by eating apples, avocadoes, apricots, fish, tofu, nuts and wholegrains.
You can start your seduction in the kitchen by creating a relaxed atmosphere and serving foods which lift the mood and stimulate the senses.
Try coating strawberries in melted dark chocolate, chill in the fridge for an hour and serve dusted with fine castor sugar and a bowl of whipped cream on the side for dipping. Perfect for a dessert which can be eaten with the fingers and transferred to the bedroom.
Melt blocks of 70% dark chocolate in espresso cups of cacao, sprinkle with chilli powder and cinnamon and serve hot.
Place a bowl of figs in cool water as a centerpiece to your table, adding a few floating candles and flower petals for a romantic effect. Later remove the candles and take turns feeding the succulent fruits to one another.
Include some asparagus in your apperitif, some avocado in your salad and some nutmeg and chilli in your main course and you are well on your way to a highly spiced evening!
Every meal can be a sensuous experience if you remember to truly taste, smell and savour each bite. The company of your loved one and a willingness to eat with your hands in the glow of candlelight and a background of soft music may just help your evening reach the boudoir rather sooner than you thought.
Whether the aphrodisiac properties of most foods are fact or fiction remains to be seen. I, for one, am perfectly happy to volunteer for in-depth research on a regular basis!
Sexual Fitness, Wuh, Hank C K, M.D and Fox, Mei Mei (All authors surnames first)
Berkeley Publishing group, Division of Penguin Putnam Inc. New York, USA 2001