Aphrodisiac Foods & Recipes

figs whole and sliced

Some Interesting History

Source: Cambridge World History of Food

Aphrodisiacs were first sought out as a remedy for various sexual anxieties including fears of inadequate performance as well as a need to increase fertility.  Procreation was an important moral and religious issue and aphrodisiacs were sought to insure both male and female potency.

Why Certain Foods?

In ancient times a distinction was made between a substance that increased fertility versus one that simply increased sex drive.  One of the key issues in early times was nutrition. Food was not so readily available as it is today. Undernourishment creates a loss of libido as well as reduces fertility rates.   Substances that "by nature" represent "seed or semen" such as bulbs, eggs, snails" were considered inherently to have sexual powers. Other types of foods were considered stimulating by their "physical resemblance to genitalia"

It's important to realize these food substances were identified (documented) by the likes of Pliny and Dioscordes (ancient Greeks) first century AD and later by Paul of Aegina from the seventh century.  Later more credence was given to foods that "satisfied dietary gratification". 

Other foods deemed to have these erotic qualities were derived from mythology.   Aphrodite, the love goddess was said to consider "sparrows" sacred because of their "amorous nature" and for that reason were included in various aphrodisiac brews.

There was not always agreement upon what foods were actually aphrodisiacs or "anaphrodisiacs" (decrease potency).   But the ancient list included Anise, basil, carrot, salvia, gladiolus root, orchid bulbs, pistachio nuts, rocket (arugula), sage, sea fennel, turnips, skink flesh (a type of lizard) and river snails.

The ancients suggested you steer clear of dill, lentil, lettuce, watercress, rue, and water lily.

Aphrodisiac Foods List

Food Aphrodisiac Properties
Almond A symbol of fertility throughout the ages. The aroma is thought to induce passion in a female. Try serving Marzipan (almond paste) in the shapes of fruits for a special after-dinner treat.
Aniseed A very popular aphrodisiac with many culinary uses.  The Greeks and the Romans believed aniseed had special powers. Sucking on the seeds is said to increases your desire.
Arugula Arugula or "rocket" seed has been documented as an aphrodisiac since the first century A.D.  This ingredient was added to grated orchid bulbs and parsnips and also combined with pine nuts and pistachios. Arugula greens are frequently used in salads and pasta.
Asafetida Any Indian dried, powedere herb used as a sexual stimulant in Ayurvedic medicine.  The herb has a very strong, garlicy flavor.
Asparagus Given it's phallic shape, asparagus is frequently enjoyed as an aphrodisiac food.   Feed your lover boiled or steamed spears for a sensuous experience. The Vegetarian Society suggests "eating asparagus for three days for the most powerful affect".
Avocado The Aztecs called the avocado tree "Ahuacuatl which translated means "testicle tree". The ancients thought the fruit hanging in pairs on the tree resembled the male's testicles. This is a delicious fruit with a sensuous texture. Serve in slices with a small amount of Balsamic vinegar and freshly ground pepper.
Bananas The banana flower has a marvelous phallic shape and is partially responsible for popularity of the banana as an aphrodisiac food. An Islamic myth tells the tale that after Adam and Eve succumbed to the "Apple" they started covering their "nudity" with banana leaves rather than fig. From a more practical standpoint bananas are rich in potassium and B vitamins, necessities for sex hormone production.
Basil (sweet basil) Is said to stimulate the sex drive and boost fertility. It is also said to produce a general sense of well being for body and mind.
Broccoli Rabe (And Other Mustard Greens) The ground seeds of various plants in the brassica family were believed to increase virility. In the case of broccoli rabe its more likely a myth created to get people to eat this bitter vegetable.
Chocolate The Aztecs referred to chocolate "nourishment of the Gods". Chocolate contains chemicals thought to effect neurotransmitters in the brain and a related substance to caffeine called theobromine. Chocolate contains more antioxidant (cancer preventing enzymes) than does red wine.  The secret for passion is to combine the two.  Try a glass of Cabernet with a bit of dark chocolate for a sensuous treat or let us temp you with our recipe for Chocolate Espresso Pots de creme.
Carrots Another good reason to eat carrots--believed to be a stimulant to the male. The phallus shaped carrot has been associated with stimulation since ancient times and was used by early Middle Eastern royalty to aid seduction. High vitamins and beta-carotene. Perhaps a justification for a piece of carrot cake?
Coffee Caffeine is a well-know stimulant but remember, too much and it becomes a depressant.   Serve small amounts of rich dark coffee in special little demitasse cups.   Coffee stimulates both the body and the mind so partake of a little in preparation for an "all-nighter".
Coriander (Cilantro seed) The book of The Arabian nights tells a tale of a merchant who had been childless for 40 years and but was cured by a concoction that included coriander. That book is over 1000 years old so the history of coriander as an aphrodisiac dates back far into history. Cilantro was also know to be used as an "appetite" stimulant.
Fennel In the 1930's fennel was found to be a source of natural plant estrogens. Use of fennel as an aphrodisiac dates back to the Egyptian times where it was used as "libido enhancement".
Figs An open fig is thought to emulate the female sex organs and traditionally thought of as sexual stimulant. A man breaking open a fig and eating it in front of his lover is a powerful erotic act. Serve fresh Black Mission figs in a cool bowl of water as it is done in Italy and be sure to eat with your fingers!
Garlic The 'heat' in garlic is said to stir sexual desires. Make sure you and your partner share it together. Garlic has been used for centuries to cure everything from the common cold to heart ailments. This is a good time for moderation. Enjoy a pasta with a lightly garlicky sauce and it and lead up to something spicy in the bedroom later.
Ginger Ginger root raw, cooked or crystallized is a stimulant to the circulatory system. Perhaps a stir-fry with freshly grated ginger can stir something spicy up in the bedroom later.
Honey Many medicines in Egyptian times were based on honey including cures for sterility and impotence. Medieval seducers plied their partners with Mead, a fermented drink made from honey. Lovers on their "Honeymoon" drank mead and it was thought to "sweeten" the marriage.
Liquorice (licorice) The Chinese have used licorice for medicinal purposes since ancient times. The essence of the Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) plan, glycrrhizin, is 50 time sweeter than sugar. Chewing on bits of licorice root is said to enhance love and lust. It is particularly stimulating to woman.
Mustard Believed to stimulate the sexual glands and increase desire. Prepare a tenderloin roast (filet mignon) for two with a mustard and peppercorn sauce.
Nutmeg Nutmeg was highly prized by Chinese women as an aphrodisiac. In quantity nutmeg can produce a hallucinogenic effect. A light sprinkling of the spice in a warm pumpkin soup can help spice up your evening.
Oysters Oysters were documented as a aphrodisiac food by the Romans in the second century A.D as mentioned in a satire by Juvenal. He described the wanton ways of women after ingesting wine and eating "giant oysters". An additional hypotheses is that the oyster resembles the "female" genitals. In reality oysters are a very nutritious and high in protein.
Pine Nuts
Zinc is a key mineral necessary to maintain male potency and pine nuts are rich in zinc. Pine nuts have been used to stimulate the libido as far back as Medieval times. Serve pine nut cookies with a dark espresso for a stimulating dessert.
Pineapple Rich in vitamin C and and is used in the homeopathic treatment for impotence. Add a spear to a sweet Rum drink for a tasty prelude to an evening of passion.
Raspberries and Strawberries Perfect foods for hand feeding your lover. "Both invite love and are described in erotic literature as fruit nipples" Both are high in vitamin C and make a sweet light dessert.
Truffles The Greeks and the Romans considered the rare Truffle to be an aphrodisiac. The musky scent is said to stimulate and sensitize the skin to touch.
Vanilla The scent and flavor of vanilla is believed to increase lust. According to the Australian Orchid Society, "Old Totonac lore has it that Xanat, the young daughter of the Mexican fertility goddess, loved a Totonac youth. Unable to marry him due to her divine nature, she transformed herself into a plant that would provide pleasure and happiness." Fill tall Champagne glasses to the rim and add a vanilla bean for a heady, bubbly treat
Wine A glass or two of wine can greatly enhance a romantic interlude. Wine relaxes and helps to stimulate our senses. Drinking wine can be an erotic experience. Let your eyes feast on the color of the liquid. Caress the glass, savor the taste on your lips. Do remember that excessive alcohol will make you too drowsy for the after-dinner romance. A moderate amount of wine has been said to "arouse" but much more than that amount with have the reverse affect.

Getting Technical

Encyclopedia Britannica Article

"Aphrodisiac: any of various forms of stimulation thought to arouse sexual excitement. These substances may be classified in two principal groups: (1) psycho-physiological (visual, tactile, olfactory, aural) and (2) internal (stemming from food, alcoholic drinks, drugs, love potions, medical preparations).

It has been suggested that man's universal attribution of libidinous effects to certain foods originated in the ancient belief in the therapeutic efficacy of signatures: if an object resembled the genitalia, it possessed, so it was reasoned, sexual powers. Thus the legendary aphrodisiac powers of ginseng root and powdered rhinoceros horn.

With the exception of certain drugs such as alcohol or marijuana, which may lead to sexual excitation through disinhibition, modern medical science recognizes a very limited number of aphrodisiacs. These are, principally, cantharides and yohimbine, both of which stimulate sexual arousal by irritating the urinary tract when excreted. Cantharides, or cantharidin, consists of the broken dried remains of the blister beetle (q.v.) Lytta vesicatoria. It has been a traditional sexual stimulant fed to male livestock to facilitate breeding. In humans the substance produces skin blisters on contact, and attempts to ingest it as an aphrodisiac are considered extremely hazardous. Yohimbine is a crystalline alkaloid substance derived from the bark of the yohimbé tree (Corynanthe yohimbe) found in central Africa, where it has been used for centuries to increase sexual powers. Although it has been promoted as an aphrodisiac, most investigators feel that any clinical change in sexual powers after its use is probably due to suggestion, because stimulatory effects are elicited only with toxic doses. "

author

Barbara Bowman graduated with degree in Foods and Nutrition from San Jose State University. As CEO of GourmetSleuth.com she spends most waking hours writing, cooking, eating, gardening and traveling.