In The Mood Foods

The History And Science of Aphrodisiacs

Recently I’ve had an old adage ringing through my head—“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” During these cold winter days, I also find myself thinking how nice, or naughty, it might be to heat things up a little. So let’s take a closer look at aphrodisiacs.

The word aphrodisiac originates from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sexual love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation. In present day, Merriam-Webster defines aphrodisiacs as any substance that arouses the senses, increases sexual desire, and may even improve sexual performance.

We organize aphrodisiacs into either psychophysiological compounds (affecting sight, smell, hearing, and touch) or ingestible compounds (food, drink, and natural or synthetic medicaments). All arouse the senses. There are those that warm the body. Many are exotic. Some edibles even look like genitalia.


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In The Art of Love, the Roman poet Ovid provided a list of known edible aphrodisiacs and then wrote: “Prescribe no more my muse, nor medicines give, Beauty and youth need no provocative.”

Although I can’t guarantee that ingesting these foods will lead to an amorous night, crafting a sensual meal that includes these ingredients is a perfect way to set the mood for a romantic evening. I also recommend eating with your hands or better yet, feeding each other. I learned this during my travels through India where I was told that eating with a fork and knife is like making love through a translator.

It must be noted that although there is much written on the subject, the Food and Drug Administration has determined that there is no substantiating evidence to support the validity and/ or reliability of aphrodisiacs. Fact or folklore, people will follow their heart’s desire in search of the perfect catalyst for love, and the answers could be just a supermarket away.

Here are a few categories to get your exploration started:

Turn Up The Heat

According to the second century Roman physician Galen, foods that create warmth and moisture and even have the ability to make you “windy” increase your heart rate and are thought to heat up passion. Examples include chili peppers, garlic, and ginger.

In The Eye Of The Beholder

Foods that resemble male or female genitalia are believed to increase desire. The infamous oyster is one example, as are some fruits and vegetables, like asparagus and carrot, which are quite phallic in shape.

You Are What You Eat

Reproductive organs, eggs, and bulbs are thought to increase sexual desire and potency. Eggs signify new life and fertility. Throughout history testicles and penises from all animals have been consumed to enhance the libido. Bulbs are considered to have sexual powers stemming from their ability to grow and produce.

Exotic And Erotic

Rare foods that are often expensive elicit excitement. Truffles, saffron, and roses are all pricey and evocative in creating love potions. In Erotic Cuisine: A Natural History of Aphrodisiac Cookery, Indian Ayurvedic medicine purports that pearl and gold dust used alongside potent foods like saffron, milk, and ghee strengthen semen power.

Stimulating All The Senses

Foods that stimulate the senses in a pleasurable way are also thought to stimulate passion. Honey, dubbed the food of the gods, is a sweet elixir produced by bees that harvest pollen from the inner depths of flowers. This pollination process gives us another old adage involving the birds and the bees.