Since ancient times, people have been trying to find magic foods that will make them good in bed. People have compiled cookbooks, whispered recipes, and searched for exotic ingredients in hopes that the right provisions would create a meal so sumptuous, it would be guaranteed to lead into an incredible evening of lovemaking.
Today, foods thought to have aphrodisiac properties include oysters, chocolate, figs, artichokes, arugula and honey. But what exactly classifies a food as an aphrodisiac? And is there any basis for the claims that certain foods can rev up your libido or enhance your performance?
One of the earliest records referring to food being used for erotic purposes is in the writings of Pedanius Dioscorides (40-90 A.D.), a First Century A.D. Greek physician. Dioscorides penned a treatise on herbs and their medicinal properties, including notes on what herbs and vegetables might be useful for their therapeutic value below the belt. In particular, the artichoke was cited as a delicacy that had aphrodisiac properties—and could help to ensure that a woman would conceive a son.
A page from Dioscorides' De Materia Medicina
Elsewhere in the world, the wisdom of the Kama Sutra was being spread, although the book itself likely wasn’t compiled until a century after the time of Dioscorides. While notable for its sexual positions, the Kama Sutra also contains a few recipes for “love potions.”
One passion-boosting beverage was concocted from equal parts ghee (clarified butter), honey, sugar, licorice, the juice of fennel bulbs and milk. Another recipe in the recommended that men seeking enhanced virility should take a ram’s testicle, cook it in milk sweetened with sugar, and eat the “confection” prior to lovemaking. Mmm, yum. Bull-testicle breath… Hopefully the results were worth it.
Skipping ahead a few centuries, we find more and more surviving examples of cookbooks, many of which include notes on foods with aphrodisiac properties. As the Age of Exploration brought new and exotic foods back to from the far reaches of the globe, people started to believe that foods such as tomatoes and chocolate had the power to aid in the art of seduction.
A sensual feast from the Kama Sutra
While part of the allure might have been the new and novel flavors, it’s likely that the major libido enhancer inherent in these foods was money—as only the very wealthy had access to them for quite some time. One early recipe for an erotic meal is found in a book by Legrand d’Aussy, who is actually referencing an older work from 1539, De Re Hortensi.
The recipe refers to “love apples” as an aphrodisiac ingredient for salads. The exact definition of “love apples” seems to have changed greatly over the centuries, with the term being used at various times to refer to either eggplant or tomatoes, but most believe that this particular recipe references a plum-colored fruit rather than a red one—though since there are actually purple varieties of heirloom tomatoes one could theorize that… Oh, never mind. Let’s just say for the sake of argument they’re talking about eggplants.
An erotic eggplant?
By the late 1700s, chocolate was all the rage in Europe, and many physicians, gourmands and chefs alike were touting the confection for its alleged bedroom benefits. In Percivall Pott’s Oeuvres Chirurgicales (Surgical Works), there is mention of a recipe for chocolate that promises to cure venereal diseases. While many of us wish today we could swap chocolate as for antibiotics, it’s understood that Cocoa Puffs don’t have the power to cure STDs.
New-World ingredients were certainly fodder for aphrodisiac recipes, however, there was another aspect of erotic cookery that also took hold of the public imagination around the era. As late as 1743, books were being published that touted the “magic” properties of certain herbs and foods. One such recipe comes from a book of magic potions by Albertus Magnus, in a treatise known as Les Admirables secrets d’Albert le Grand. Allegedly, a magic potion made with knotweed—a plant native to Asia that taste slightly of rhubarb—promised to “excite much in love” and was said to “give strength for coitus.”
Knotweed certainly doesn’t sound anywhere near as sexy as chocolate...but there was that whole magic angle to consider.
Lust on the Menu
Try this at home... (Click on image)
Today’s bookstore shelves are filled with dozens of tasty tomes that tantalize readers with the promise of better sex. And while many are filled with great recipe ideas, not every one is guaranteed to “amp up the libido.” (Although some of the sexy food photography alone in these books could give porn a run for its money.)
So what’s the truth? Do any of these “magic” foods have the potential to increase your stamina or your enjoyment of the sexual act? That depends. Foods containing high levels of zinc, such as oysters, can be beneficial for male performance. Chocolate triggers similar reactions in the brain to being in love. But by and large, most of the foods we think of as having aphrodisiac properties are shaped like genitalia. Make a point to eat something that looks like a sexual organ, and your date will surely get the hint.
Our obsession with finding aphrodisiac foods has been driving our appetites for millennia, and chances are the pursuit won’t fade away any time soon. Perhaps part of the allure is that we hope someday to find a culinary “magic bullet,” a food that guarantees certain pleasure in an uncertain world.
Do oysters tickle the ruby pearl? (Photo by Dominic Morel)
The act of eating itself is a ritual that almost always accompanies courtship. Whether you plan a date over coffee or dinner, chances are that food will play some part in any of your upcoming romantic plans. Ultimately, it comes down to this: Good food will always be a turn-on, a sort of pre-foreplay where the brain’s dopamine centers are fully engaged and priming your body for what’s to come.
Whether the meal you share is oysters or cheese steaks, you’ll have an amazing night ahead of you if you are really into the person you are dining with. Food can help set the atmosphere...You need to be the one to seal the deal.
(A VERY special thanks to Jess Nevins for assistance with research)