9 Aphrodisiacs to Heat Up Your Love LifeBy Joe Wilkes
Named for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, aphrodisiacs have been the stuff of legend and song throughout history. Lovers looking for a leg up in the libido department have gone to their shamans, medicine men, and herbalists for centuries, searching for the magic ingredient that will kick their mojo into high gear. And today the search has gone to the Internet. Anyone with a lackluster spam filter has probably scanned the hundreds of emails that arrive every day, advertising powdered rhinoceros horn or some unpronounceable chemical that promises to goose your or your partner's desires. The efficacy of these miracle products is extremely dubious (and, in the case of the exotic animal parts, illegal), but there are plenty of products that you can find right in your grocery store or farmers' market that can potentially increase the heat between the sheets. Here are some common foods and why they might be able to put a little extra oomph into that special evening. And over half of them are in the top two tiers of Michi's Ladder, so you can have your cake and eat it, too! (Well, not cake, but asparagus and bananas!)
- Oysters. These are perhaps the classic aphrodisiacs of all time. The legendary lover Casanova reportedly consumed 50 oysters every day to keep his . . . um . . . stamina up. But until recently the powers of these bivalves were only backed up by anecdotal evidence and the testimonials of mollusk-loving Lotharios. Recently though, studies have shown that oysters and their shellfish brethren, including clams, scallops, and mussels, all contain chemical compounds that may aid the release of testosterone, estrogen, and other sex hormones in both men and women. Oysters are also full of zinc, a deficiency of which can cause impotence in men, another reason they can be man's best friend in the bedroom. And then of course there's the conventional wisdom that if you'll eat an oyster, you'll eat anything.
- Chocolate. What's more associated with Valentine's Day than chocolate? The ancient Aztecs considered chocolate to be an aphrodisiac for both men and women, and when the Europeans got wind of its inhibition-lowering properties, it wasn't long before the candy treat became a must-have when pitching woo. Casanova and famed Louis XV courtesan Madame du Barry were reported to be great believers in the powers of chocolate, and there may have been something to it. Chocolate contains the chemicals phenylethylamine and serotonin, which are also naturally occurring chemicals in the brain, usually released when we are happy or in love. Its chemicals can literally cause your heart to beat a little faster. Add to that a boost of caffeine and sugar, and it can be a pretty good pick-me-up with a small side of euphoria.
- Figs. Maybe it wasn't just the apple in the Garden of Eden that got things going. Remember, Adam and Eve ended up covering themselves in fig leaves. And it was also the favorite fruit of Cleopatra, who was certainly no slouch in the ways of love. In ancient Greece, fertility rituals would often follow the first fig harvest, and Greek portrayals of bacchanalia usually also included some fig action. In some European countries, figs are thrown instead of rice at newly married couples (ouch!) as symbols of fertility.
- Bananas. In the Islamic version of the tale, Adam and Eve covered themselves with banana leaves rather than fig leaves. Bananas are also considered a fertility symbol by the Hindus. Bananas can really get you going with their high levels of potassium and B vitamins, which aid the production of hormones. Bananas also contain the protease bromelain, which is believed to help circulation.
- Asparagus. It is rich in vitamin E, which is critical to the production of hormones. It also contains a lot of folic acid, which the body needs to produce histamines. And histamines are the chemical compounds that cause muscle contractions. A word of caution though—too much asparagus can cause flatulence, which might make the whole romantic plan backfire (no pun intended).
- Avocados. The Aztecs referred to the avocado tree as Ahuacuatl or "testicle tree." Apparently, the fruit usually hangs in pairs. There appears to be little besides anecdotal evidence to support its claim as an aphrodisiac, though it is rich in many nutrients, including vitamins B6, C, and E. The California Avocado Commission conducted a Valentine's Day survey in 2000 of experts, 63 percent of whom concluded that the avocado does have some aphrodisiac qualities, some of which could be attributed to recently discovered phytochemicals.
- Caviar. This fish-egg delicacy has been enjoyed by lovers for centuries, including, of course, Casanova (which increasingly leads me to believe a lot of women were just sleeping with him to get to the buffet). Caviar is known for its silky texture. Naturally, eggs are common fertility symbols, but there may also be some chemical reasons for which they are rated so highly on the love-maker's diet. Like oysters, they are high in zinc and rich in vitamins A and D and omega-3 fatty acids. They also are high in arginine, an amino acid which acts as a vasodilator, widening blood vessels and increasing blood flow.
- Truffles. Not the chocolate kind (although those count under the "chocolate" category) but the expensive underground mushroom kind that pigs and dogs root out of the ground. Unlike other foods, it is the musky scent of the truffle that is believed to be what gets us going. Scientists have recently discovered that black truffles contain the pheromone androstenol. There is some debate over how much human beings are affected by pheromones, but truffles have been considered to be aphrodisiacs for centuries, and this recent discovery could be one explanation.
- Champagne. When we think of romantic beverages, the list pretty much begins and ends with champagne. Most of the effects of champagne seem to be largely psychological, though. The purchase of an expensive beverage may set the mood for a special evening, and a mystique has been built in the media about the drink and its drinkers, from Marie Antoinette to Marilyn Monroe. But scientifically speaking, its amorous effects seem to come from the same place as most alcoholic beverages. Alcohol appears to have no positive effect on sexual function and, when overindulging, will usually move you in the other direction. It does, however, lead to a loss of inhibition and a decrease in judgment—in other words, a prelude to a kiss.