Erotic Edibles Through History
Throughout history, vegetables like onions, turnips, leeks, squash, asparagus, artichokes, and watercress were thought to not only stimulate desire, but also increase sperm count. Shapely fruits like the apple and curvaceous pear were seen as erotic edibles. And heavily seeded fruits like pomegranates and figs were compared to the "seeds of fertility."
And what about those notorious oysters? Alas, despite the sexual exploits attributed to their powers, oysters are made up of elements that cannot possibly chemically stimulate the genitals of either sex -- namely water, protein, carbohydrate, fat, some salts, glycogen, and tiny amounts of minerals like potassium and calcium. Apparently, the oyster can thank its shape and squishy texture for its aphrodisiac acclaim.
Chocolate is one of America's favorite "comfort foods," but to the ancient Aztecs, it offered a lot more than comfort -- it was considered a powerful aphrodisiac.
In the early 1980s, researchers thought they had solved the mystery of our love affair with chocolate. They detected the chemical phenyl ethylamine (PEA) in chocolate. PEA is a central nervous system stimulant, usually present in the human brain, that is thought to help arouse emotions. But the human body actually absorbs very little PEA from chocolate -- not enough to affect our emotions, anyway. So, it seems the sexiest thing about chocolate is its taste and melt-in-your-mouth texture -- which, in my estimation, is not too shabby!
In 14th century Europe, the spice trade from Asia added herbs and spices into the aphrodisiac equation. Historical accounts suggest that many of these foods like cloves, anise seed, cinnamon, ginger, white pepper, cardamom, and thyme -- had sterling aphrodisiac reputations in their native regions.
The fact that potatoes (both sweet and white) were new to Europe in the 16th century helped perpetuate the belief that they possessed sexual powers. Other vegetables joined their aphrodisiac ranks in the 16th through 18th centuries, namely carrots (the vegetable, juice, and seeds) and the juice of asparagus.
By the 18th century, the influence of phallically oriented foods, such as eel, carrots, and asparagus, had taken shape (pun intended). Various bulb vegetables thought to resemble testicles, like the onion, were thought to affect a man's potency.
Looking to spice up your sex life? Try adding ginseng and saffron to your diet. Both are proven performance boosters, according to a new scientific review of natural aphrodisiacs conducted by University of Guelph researchers.
Indulge in wine and chocolate, too, but know that their amorous effects are likely all in your head. Stay away from the more obscure Spanish fly and Bufo toad. While purported to be sexually enhancing, they produced the opposite result and can even be toxic.
Those are among the findings of the study by Massimo Marcone, a professor in Guelph's Department of Food Science, and master's student John Melnyk. The results will appear in the journal Food Research International but are available online now.
"Aphrodisiacs have been used for thousands of years all around the world, but the science behind the claims has never been well understood or clearly reported," Marcone said.
"Ours is the most thorough scientific review to date. Nothing has been done on this level of detail before now." There is a need for natural products that enhance sex without negative side effects, Melnyk added. Currently, conditions such as erectile dysfunction are treated with synthetic drugs, including sildenafil (commonly sold as Viagra) and tadalafil (Cialis).
"But these drugs can produce headache, muscle pain and blurred vision, and can have dangerous interactions with other medications. They also do not increase libido, so it doesn't help people experiencing low sex drive," he said.
The researchers examined hundreds of studies on commonly used consumable aphrodisiacs to investigate claims of sexual enhancement -- psychological and physiological.
Ultimately, they included only studies meeting the most stringent controls.
The results? They found that panax ginseng, saffron and yohimbine, a natural chemical from yohimbe trees in West Africa, improved human sexual function.
People report increased sexual desire after eating muira puama, a flowering plant found in Brazil; maca root, a mustard plant in the Andes; and chocolate. Despite its purported aphrodisiac effect, chocolate was not linked to sexual arousal or satisfaction, the study said.
"It may be that some people feel an effect from certain ingredients in chocolate, mainly phenylethylamine, which can affect serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain," Marcone said.
Alcohol was found to increase sexual arousal but to impede sexual performance.
Nutmeg, cloves, garlic, ginger, and ambergris, formed in the intestinal tract of the sperm whale, are among substances linked to increased sexual behaviour in animals.
While their findings support the use of foods and plants for sexual enhancement, the authors urge caution. "Currently, there is not enough evidence to support the widespread use of these substances as effective aphrodisiacs," Marcone said. "More clinical studies are needed to better understand the effects on humans."
Materials provided by University of Guelph. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
- John P. Melnyk, Massimo F. Marcone. Aphrodisiacs from Plant and Animal Sources – A Review of Current Scientific Literature. Food Research International, 2011; DOI: 10.1016/j.foodres.2011.02.043
Cite This Page:
University of Guelph. "Natural aphrodisiacs: 'Spicing' up your love life possible, finds study of ginseng and saffron." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 March 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110328092423.htm>.
University of Guelph. (2011, March 28). Natural aphrodisiacs: 'Spicing' up your love life possible, finds study of ginseng and saffron. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 10, 2018 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110328092423.htm
University of Guelph. "Natural aphrodisiacs: 'Spicing' up your love life possible, finds study of ginseng and saffron." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110328092423.htm (accessed March 10, 2018).