Posted 5th February 2015 by Trevor Baker
Anyone planning a romantic meal on Valentine's Day will be aware of the idea that certain foods are aphrodisiacs. The problem, however, is knowing which foods. Over the thousands of years that human beings have been attempting to give their love life a boost with the right snack, pretty much everything you can eat, from lettuce and cauliflower, to steak and potatoes, has been dubbed an aphrodisiac at one time or another.
The Ancient Greek doctor Galen declared that anything which caused flatulence was an aphrodisiac and he was believed by many right up until the nineteenth century. St Jerome forbade his nuns to eat beans for fear that they would become dangerously excited.
In the modern age, though, we've moved on from such superstitions. Legislative bodies in the UK, the US and elsewhere blandly dismiss the idea that there's any such thing as an aphrodisiac. However, some experts disagree and there's increasing evidence for food's effect on our mood. Is it possible that the ancients were right and that you can influence a romantic meal's outcome by choosing the right dishes?
“The American food and drink authority says there's no such thing as an aphrodisiac, says Amy Reiley (http://eatsomethingsexy.com/wordpress), author of Romancing The Stove and other cookbooks, “because they say an aphrodisiac has to be something that directly raises sexual hormone levels. Which is not at all how I would define it. But there is some evidence that some foods may raise sexual hormone levels. And any food that can be an aid to romance can be considered an aphrodisiac.”
But what are these foods? There are various different ways in which a food might potentially be an aphrodisiac. The first and most controversial is the idea that it might have chemical compounds which directly effect the libido. Chocolate, for example, contains phenylethylamine which, studies have shown, releases the same feel-good chemical as that released during sexual intercourse.
Unfortunately the same studies have also shown that to get a significant quantity of that phenylethylamine you'd have to eat kilos of the stuff, which might not be such a turn-on. Amy Reiley believes that cheese, which she says can contain as much as ten times more phenylethylamine than chocolate, is a better bet. However, perhaps the more powerful aphrodisiac effect comes from the cultural expectations that we bring to everything we eat.
“From a nutritional perspective you're probably going to be more successful with cheese than with chocolate,” she says. “But people have such a strong association of chocolate with romance.”
According to Sian Porter of the British Dietetic Association, “There's no evidence of specific foods having aphrodisiac qualities, but eating food is not just like putting petrol in a car. It's a pleasure, we use it as a reward and a treat and a symbol of love.”
Amy Reiley goes way beyond the list of stereotypically “romantic” foods in her search for aphrodisiac. She particularly likes spices such as ginger, which have a touch of heat, “because they make the lips plump up and look kissable”.
She also suggests that oats are an aphrodisiac because of their slow-release of energy and high protein content, which is also important for the libido. Although presumably if you've got to the stage of eating porridge oats together, then the date has already gone pretty well.
The other aphrodisiac effect comes via association. Foods such as bananas and carrots, or oysters and figs, have been considered seductive for centuries because of their shape reminding people, or at least those with a slightly odd imagination, of human genitalia.
“If that works for you, fine,” says Amy. “But personally I think it's a bit silly.”
However, perhaps by a happy accident, some of these foods do have their own role to play in the game of love.
“Bananas are a good example,” says Sian Porter. “They're suggestive of male sexual organs but they're also a good source of potassium, which is important for blood pressure. If your blood pressure's not right you could have problems with erection. Similarly, oysters are high in zinc. And zinc plays an important role in the production of sperm.”
Amy's recommendation for a truly romantic meal starts with the observation that you need to get to know your partner's likes and dislikes first.
“If somebody doesn't like something very much it's never going to work,” she says. “I firmly believe you have to keep your audience in mind. If you serve oysters to somebody who hates oysters it's certainly not going to make for a successful encounter.”
However, she does have a few suggestions that you might want to include in a romantic meal.
“One of the things I always recommend is to try and layer textures and temperatures in the dish. You might want to have a cold element, a hot element, something crunchy, something creamy. I think that it helps to pull you into the moment.”
In the long-term, though, the easiest person to serve an aphrodisiac to is yourself.
“If you start thinking 'I want to be the sexiest thing on two legs' she says. “You can eat foods such as fruit and vegetables that contain antioxidants that support your libido, that improve your mood, improve your circulation and you probably will be the hottest thing on two legs after a while. If you're short on iron then you probably should eat foods such as red meat and kale, for example.”
The most powerful role of aphrodisiacs, though, is in the mind. If you think that they work then maybe they will. If you can't convince your partner that beans on toast really is a dangerously effective aphrodisiac this Valentine's day, however, here is a three course meal which might be more effective. . .
Chicken, Carrot and Ginger Soup to start warming the evening up.
For an iron-booster, tuck into this red meat and kale combo, Paprika Lamb Cutlets with Roasted Aubergine.
Combine oats and cheese in a delicious, smooth cheesecake for all the rest of your essential love-nutrients. Try this Mango Cheesecake, which also uses seasonal, Peruvian mangoes to complete a gorgeous Valentine's meal and lift a wintry plate of dessert.
What aphrodisiac meals will you be serving up this Valentine's Day? Share your recipes and thoughts @TescoFood.