Your words are my food, your breath my wine. You are everything to me. ~ Sarah Bernhardt
It’s nearly St. Valentine’s Day when a young chef’s thoughts turn fondly to foods that will spike the libido. In fact, Valentine’s Day is one of the two biggest days of the year for restaurants (the other being Mothers’ Day). If you’re planning on going out to dinner next Saturday and haven’t made reservations yet, it may be too late. Personally I prefer the intimacy of preparing (or sharing preparation) with my loved one. Then pile the dishes in the sink, toss a towel over them, and settle in for an evening for two.
It’s not surprising that we associate food with love. Eating is second only to sex in it’s sensuality, because like sex it involves our senses of taste, smell, touch, and sight. That being the case, it’s not surprising that over the centuries humans have turned to various foods to arouse and stimulate. The Romans considered asparagus and eggs to be aphrodisiacs (separately, not together).
For the most part, reputed aphrodisiacs fall into one of three categories of magic. The first group are what you might term spiritual aphrodisiacs. By eating a Tiger’s penis you take on the strength and virility of the tiger, the same applies to eating a pig’s testicles.
The second group are associative, the Aztecs associated chocolate with the fertility goddess, Xochiquetzal and the Greeks considered sparrows to be stimulating because they were favorites of the goddess Aphrodite (the root the word “aphrodisiac”).
But by far the most common aphrodisiacs are forms of sympathetic magic – foods presumed to have an effect because of their resemblance to human sex organs. Oysters, figs, strawberries, peaches, and epithelial orchids are all said to resemble female genitalia (you have to slice the fruit open to get the effect).
On the male side, I mentioned asparagus above as a symbol of the phallus, but in that same category also fall leeks, carrots, ginseng, bananas, and parsnips. Avocados are said to resemble testicles – in fact the name “avocado” comes from the name of the tree, Ahuacuatl, which means “testicle tree.” Nutmeg falls into this same category.
There are a few genuine aphrodisiacs. Testosterone affects the libido of both men and women. Anything that increases dopamine levels increases libido – cocaine falls into this category. Chocolate contains caffeine, a stimulant, and phenylethylamine, which does have a mild libidinal effect, as well as theobromine, which affects the pleasure centers by emulating serotonin.
So, if you’re planning on cooking your own romantic dinner this Valentine’s Day, here are a few suggestions from my cooking and recipe site, Seriously Good. Bon Apetit!