Few human instincts are as compelling as the desire for sexual connection. Throughout time, the moment our basic survival needs–food, shelter, protection from large, furry animals–have been met, we’ve sought sexual union, both for procreation and pleasure. And universal though it may be, sex is still the most enduring enigma. Sex represents survival in its purest form, ensuring the continuation of the species. At its worst, consensual sex is still fun; at its best, it’s mind-blowing. And when it isn’t happening at all, it can be devastating.
So, throughout history, those afflicted with sexual disorders, from impotence to lack of interest, have sought out foods and herbs to inspire desire. Some of these aphrodisiacs–named for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of fertility, beauty and desire–are thought to be lust-provoking because of their resemblance to human genitalia. These range from the obvious, like bananas, cucumbers and asparagus, to the slightly more subtle, like peaches, apricots and raspberries, which are thought to resemble a woman’s nipples. And then some foods, like lobsters and mangoes, are simply sexier than others. Really, how sultry can you feel eating peanut butter or canned tuna?
Figs have enjoyed a versatility unmatched by any other aphrodisiac, being compared alternately to the penis, vagina, testicles and anus. The avocado tree was termed “Ahuacuatl” (“testicle tree”) by the Aztecs, who thought the fruit hanging in pairs looked like testicles. Truffles, with their musky aroma and mysterious folds, have been considered aphrodisiacs since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Papayas–juicy, voluptuous, with subtle swells and curves that are uniquely feminine–were thought in folk medicine to stimulate the production of estrogen.
Oysters, clams and mussels are more overtly representative of female genitalia, and lobster is thought to enhance the power and charms of men and promote fertility in women. So strong is the association between seafood and sexual desire that priests were long banned from eating fish, lest it interfere with their vows to celibacy. And while we may not think of apples, honey and peppers as sexy food, the Kama Sutra makes many references to these foods; mashed together and applied to the male genitals, they were guaranteed to provoke amorous liaisons.
A few foods, like chocolate, red wine and champagne, contain chemical compounds that, in the appropriate quantities and circumstances, can incite passion. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, boosts serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter, and contains phenylethylamine, a chemical in the brain that leads to feelings of euphoria and occurs in higher concentrations during orgasm and when you’re in love.
If you’re hungry for love, and none is forthcoming, you might incite passion with a new flame–or restore amour with a steady lover–with a meal based on some of these legendary aphrodisiac foods. Keep it light and clean; no one feels sexy with a bloated stomach. Start with small, simple appetizers, like figs stuffed with goat cheese, fresh papaya, or steamed and chilled asparagus with a honey-ginger glaze. For a main course, try a lobster and avocado salad served on a bed of arugula leaves dressed with truffle oil. Or go for the aphrodisiac standard: oysters. Steam them and serve with cocktail sauce or drawn butter, or try Oysters Rockefeller, made with Pernod, fresh spinach, tarragon or mood-enhancing basil instead of tarragon.
To finish, serve chocolate truffles, Bananas Foster made with honey, or fresh raspberries with whipped cream, and see where the evening takes you. What do you have to lose–except, maybe, a good night’s sleep?