Garden to Table
January 27, 2008
What do oysters, chocolate and avocados have in common? They are all considered aphrodisiac foods – that is, foods that ignite feelings of amoré in those who digest them. Aphrodisiac foods are known to stimulate blood flow while enticing the body through sensual sights, smells and textures. It is this combination of qualities that stirs the passions and awakens the senses.
The word aphrodisiac actually comes from the name Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty, and although medical science has never substantiated claims that certain foods actually kindle desire – in fact, a recent Italian study suggests that the aphrodisiac potential of chocolate is purely psychological – belief in the power of aphrodisiac foods dates back to ancient times.
Martha Hopkins, co-author of The New InterCourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook, says that historically speaking, items that were perceived as rare or hard to find – like coffee and chocolate, as well as items that resembled specific body parts – like asparagus or oysters, were considered aphrodisiacs. These days, the criterion for what is considered an aphrodisiac food is somewhat different.
“There isn’t much today that feels rare or is hard to find. Today, we look at the innate sexuality of the food itself, choosing foods that tap into the senses, like honey. We also look at turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. The best aphrodisiac is nourishing your body and your relationship with good conversation, good food, and time spent together,” she says.
With Valentine’s Day around the corner, we decided to explore some of the more popular aphrodisiac food varieties to see what makes them tick. From bananas to garlic, pine nuts to grapes, aphrodisiac foods taste delicious and truly span the gamut.
One of the oldest known foods, the artichoke is delicately meaty and filled with antioxidants. “Pull back the leaves of this incredible food, and you find that prickly choke playing hard to get,” says Hopkins. “Once inside, the delectable heart reveals itself.”
Sodium and cholesterol-free, avocados are nutritious, creamy and mild. “Filled with good fats and possessing a wonderful buttery texture, the curves of the avocado perfectly mimic the curves of a woman’s body,” says Hopkins.
With its rich, smooth taste (and obviously phallic shape), it’s no wonder that the banana has long been considered an aphrodisiac food. More scientifically, bananas are rich in potassium and B vitamins – two necessary components for sex-hormone production.
The connection between Valentine’s Day and chocolate is more than just a marketing gimmick. Chocolate is a flavorful source of quick energy and has been known to elevate people’s moods. Why? Chocolate contains two related alkaloid stimulants – theobromine and caffeine. It is also rich in phenylethylamine, a compound that has effects similar to amphetamine.
Used for centuries in ancient Europe as an aphrodisiac remedy, garlic stimulates the secretion of gastric juices, aids in digestion and increases blood flow. It is said that the “heat” in garlic stirs sexual desires.
Before modern medicine, ginger was used to help relieve menstrual cramping. Ginger root is still used today to soothe the stomach. It also acts as a stimulant. As an aphrodisiac, ginger is thought to relax the smooth muscles of the uterus and intestines. “And ginger is great for digestion,” says Hopkins.
Golden, sticky and sweet, honey’s look, taste and texture make it alluring and mysterious. “This substance is glorious,” says Hopkins.
The classic aphrodisiac, oysters get a lot of attention for their mouth feel, especially when swallowed raw (and whole). They also get attention for their resemblance to the female genitals. Very high in protein, oysters are also rich in zinc and iron – nutrients that help in the transport of oxygen and stimulate metabolism.
Chock full of zinc, a key mineral in maintaining male potency, pine nuts have been used to stimulate libido since Medieval times. “Pine nuts have good fats and an extremely velvety texture,” says Hopkins. “They fit well as an addition to pasta dishes and lighter dishes, like salads.”
Aromatic and seductive, the smell and flavor of vanilla is believed to increase feelings of lust. Some studies have shown that vanilla can raise levels of catecholamines, or adrenaline, in the blood.
Curried Oysters with Chardonnay
Yields 2 servings
24 oysters on the half shell
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 shallots, minced
1 cup Chardonnay or other dry white wine
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon Madras curry
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Drain the oysters, reserving the juice. Set a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the butter and sauté the shallot for 2 to 3 minutes to soften. Add the wine and reserved oyster liquor. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half. Strain into a saucepan, discarding any solids.
Stir in the cream to the saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced again by half. (For a thicker sauce, dissolve 1 tablespoon of cornstarch in 2 tablespoons cold water to make a slurry. Add bit by bit to the sauce until slightly thickened.) Add the curry and salt to the sauce.
Arrange the oysters (in their shells) in a roasting pan. Season each oyster with pepper and top with a tablespoon of sauce. Bake for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the oysters are just cooked and the cream is beginning to brown.
Mexican Hot Chocolate
The most readily available brand of Mexican chocolate is Ibarra, which comes in a hexagonal package. If you can't find it, substitute bittersweet chocolate with a hefty pinch of cinnamon.
Yields 2 servings
2 to 3 ounces Mexican chocolate
3 cups milk or water
Cinnamon sticks for garnish
Finely chop the chocolate by hand. It will shave off in grainy flakes. Place the chocolate in a blender. Set a saucepan over medium-high heat and add the milk. When the milk is warmed through and on the verge of boiling, pour the hot milk over the chocolate.
Place the lid on the blender, cover with a towel for safety, and then pulse the mixture, removing the top to release steam if needed. Continue blending until the chocolate is completely melted and the milk is frothy. Pour into mugs and garnish with cinnamon sticks.
**Recipes from The New Intercourses: An Aphrodisiac Cookbook, by Martha Hopkins and Randall Lockridge, reprinted with permission.