There is any amount of folklore, superstition and myth surrounding the aphrodisiacal nature of certain types of food, and in a way, the connections make sense if you consider the primal nature of basic desire when it comes to either sex or food.
Many of the associations between food and sex seem to be largely about either the colour and/or shape of certain foods, but actually, there are some that really do contain properties known to stimulate the pleasure centres in our brain, so maybe it isn’t just quite all so nebulous.
Here are some of the best aphrodisiac foods that you might never have thought of before.
Tiramisu is now an internationally adored Italian dessert, but it started out as a quick, homemade stimulant for those with flagging energy. Its name literally means, “pick me up” and that is exactly what it is meant to do, up being the operative word. Its key ingredient was always the egg yolks, beaten until primrose pale with sugar, coffee and mascarpone, and then served in a bowl with biscuits for dipping.
I remember growing up in Italy being very aware of this connection between eggs, especially raw and super fresh, and their energy-providing qualities.
This was very much a part of everyday consideration – eggs seemed to have a mysterious link with things that always made the grown-ups chuckle and that frustratingly, I never understood. But as soon as I hit puberty, I was lined up and daily forced to swallow a whole, warm, fresh, raw egg broken on to a spoon, made mildly more palatable by the addition of a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice, my anguished protestations drowned out by assurances that its ingestion would be “so good for your womb”. Tiramisu is certainly much nicer than that raw egg, but the general stimulating effect is supposed to be the same, and many are the young couples who have been presented with huge bowlfuls of the stuff by anxious would-be grannies – an unsubtle but delicious hint.
You might not immediately connect beetroot, with its sweet, earthy flavour, with an increase in libido; but it seems that the Ancient Romans, who strongly believed in the arousing effects of this humble root, and even decorated the walls of their brothels with beetroot frescoes, were really on to something: beetroot contains high levels of the trace mineral boron, which is understood to increase our level of sex hormones.
Boron is also to be found in honey, which has been considered a powerful aphrodisiac for centuries. The word honeymoon may be associated with the ancient custom of newlyweds drinking mead (fermented honey drink) throughout the first moon cycle of their marriage.
Caterina de’Medici, a noblewoman well known for her healthy appetite for both sex and food, first brought the artichoke to France in the 16th century at a time when artichokes were considered quite scandalous because of their association with male sexual prowess. Caterina marvellously flouted convention by eating them openly and in huge quantities, and to this day they retain their reputation as a symbol of sexual power, particularly for men. They are packed with potent nutrients, all of which may well improve general health, but nothing specifically connected to one’s sexuality per se.
The avocado or ahucatl, (or testicle, to give them their Aztec name), is reputed to have enormous aphrodisiac powers. So much so those nubile Aztec girls were routinely kept safe indoors during their harvest – I personally think this might have had more to do with randomly meeting the pickers than anything else – but Louis XIV affectionately referred to it as la bonne poire, and in his later years used it to revive his sexual prowess. With high levels of vitamin E, there is perhaps a link between this sensual green fruit and youthful dexterity, or desire, in bed.
There has apparently been a study that has established that women who eat a piece of dark chocolate every day have a more active sex life than those who don’t. Like the avocado, chocolate is also linked to the Empire of Montezuma where apparently 50 cups of chocolate were routinely required by the Emperor in order to adequately satisfy all his wives. Centuries later, Casanova would do the same, consuming great quantities of chocolate to sustain himself through all his amorous conquests. Nowadays, science tells us that good quality, dark chocolate contains both phenethylamines: the stimulant that our brain releases when we fall in love; and tryptophan, which helps to produce serotonin, known to elevate our mood and provoke sexual arousal – so there is obviously something to be said for all that chocolate lovingly gifted on St Valentine’s Day.
If you can take the heat, then chilli peppers might be the aphrodisiac for you. They contain the chemical capsaicin: the more capsaicin it contains the hotter the chilli will be. But on the other hand, capsaicin is well known to boost testosterone levels and thus increase libido. Apparently, it works by stimulating the nerve endings on our tongue, thus causing the release of those all-important sex-boosting chemicals.
The multi-seeded pomegranate, long associated with fertility and abundance, has appeared as a romantic symbol in art and literature for centuries. But a recent study has shown that a daily glass of this red juice can, in fact, lower cortisol levels in both men and women, which can lead to elevated testosterone levels, which in turn increases sexual desire. The question is, was this actually the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden?
Although its phallic shape is probably the real reason why asparagus have such a strong aphrodisiacal connection there is definitely a link between the high levels of Vitamin B6 and B9 contained in this amazing vegetable, both of which can apparently boost sexual arousal and orgasm. For me, they are the most erotic vegetable of them all (see my little short story about Asparagus below), and I can’t wait for them to come into their short UK season in May. Call it my fantasy of Valentine’s dinner date, when we can at last entertain the idea of dating or even just dining out alone for that matter.
Tips On Asparagus | A short story
He is talking to me now, across the table in my favourite restaurant, but I can’t absorb a single syllable of what he’s telling me. He is eating asparagus, because, he said: “Their season is so short, and they are the taste of the summer to come”. But I can’t hear him now and I can’t stop watching him.
He is almost inserting the whole asparagus halfway into his mouth, but then, as his lips draw inwards, closing towards the shaft of the stalk, his tongue flicks out quickly, deftly, to the side and draws in the dangling spear. Only then does he bite down, and gently pulls the white stalk free, his lower teeth scraping gently through the fibres, and the juices running freely down his chin and over his manicured fingertips.
He lifts the pure white napkin to his mouth and blots carelessly, dropping the napkin back into his lap and sipping at a glass of sparkling water – “you just can’t match wine with asparagus” he had told me – before he repeats the whole process, this time dipping each one into the trembling yolk of the poached eggs, slumped like burst pillows on the side of his plate. Occasionally, as he searches for words, he gently rolls the smaller stems between his fingers and then teases them through a little pile of dusty grated Parmesan. These tiny, pert green tips he then sucks pensively, using his pursed lips expertly, before slowly biting through them, then rearranging the food on his plate, eyes cast down.
He seems unaware that I am mesmerized by the way in which he gathers the soft, pink folds of the Parma ham into his fingers, imagining for one wild second that this might be the way in which he gathers up the skirt of my dress before drawing it up over my head.
I watch him push the ham into his mouth.
Silently, I take a sip from my own glass and prepare myself for the fact that the waiter is now returning to remove our plates.
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