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The Things We Eat For Love: Aphrodisiacs In History

Note from Joy: I don't know about you, but I've already ordered my chocolate gluten-free cake from Tori's Bakeshop. I'm definitely someone who celebrates ev
Feb 12, 2015 | Kate McDonald Walker

Note from Joy: I don't know about you, but I've already ordered my chocolate gluten-free cake from Tori's Bakeshop. I'm definitely someone who celebrates every Hallmark holiday from Valentine's to Mama's Day, I mean.. why the heck not? So if chocolate isn't on your love day menu, avocados and chili peppers will do as aphrodisiacs! Enjoy Kate's latest post.

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, which means that chocolate, strawberries and wine (today’s most common put-you-in-the-mood foods) are on sale all over the place. And it’s easy to see why. These foods are smooth, sweet, rich and decadent – exactly the kinds of things that make you feel sexy.

Our ancestors … well, they had different ideas about what made a food sexy.

They were really big on what we today call the Doctrine of Signatures. This stems from a belief that the powers that be deliberately made plants resemble the parts of the body they could cure. For example, walnuts look like tiny brains, therefore they are good for your brain. (Actually, walnuts are full of omega-3 fatty acids, that’s why they’re good for brain health, but points for effort, folks.)

So according to this theory, aphrodisiac foods should look like … Well, let’s just say that if you’re squeamish about comparisons between your food and your junk, consider yourself warned.

Now, let’s talk about testicle trees!


At one point, {{reflink type=blog id=12560 title=avocados }} were marketed in America under the name alligator pear, which makes sense. The skin is rather reptilian in texture and it is definitely pear-shaped. However, the Aztecs were so convinced of its aphrodisiac properties they called it an a-huacatl, which means “testicle” in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. And that’s the name that shows up on grocery store signs across the country today.


Not only were pomegranates associated with the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite (where the word aphrodisiac comes from), they – not apples – were thought to be the original “forbidden fruit” (how’s that for a double entendre?) in the Garden of Eden. The pomegranate’s many seeds meant that it was associated with fertility, abundance and female reproductive organs. Today, a couple of studies have shown that pomegranate juice may increase blood flow (which can help with arousal) and may help with erectile dysfunction, so maybe it is the fruit of the love goddess after all.


Oysters have long been thought of as aphrodisiacs due to their alleged resemblance to the vulva (not exactly a flattering comparison for the female anatomy, as far as I’m concerned). The Romans have been touting their benefits since at least the second century AD, and in the 18th century, Casanova claimed he ate 50 for breakfast. Whether the comparison is flattering or just plain fishy, this is another ancient aphrodisiac that has been supported by modern science. Studies have shown that oysters are rich in two unusual amino acids, D-aspartic acid and N-methyl-D-aspartate, which help with the production of sex hormones testosterone and progesterone.


We get the term “honeymoon” from an ancient custom of having couples drink mead (a fermented honey beverage) every day for a month to ensure a successful marriage. When we want to talk about sex in a euphemistic way, we talk about “the birds and the bees,” and there are more eyeroll–inducing innuendos about pollenating flowers than can be counted, so it’s really no surprise than many cultures have seen {{reflink type=blog id=13291 title=honey }} has an aphrodisiac. Hippocrates himself (of Hippocratic Oath fame) prescribed honey as a sexual tonic. While busy bee pollinating behavior may have been what inspired honey’s aphrodisiac status, it’s the boron it contains that really deserves the credit, since boron helps regulate estrogen and testosterone levels.

Chili Peppers

You’re flushed, your pulse is racing, is it love? Or is it all that spicy food you just ate? Spices of all sorts have long been considered aphrodisiacs for two reasons. The first is that most spices were incredibly expensive imports, often from very far away, and there was a common understanding that the more exotic something was, the more erotic potential is must hold. (“Hey baby, wanna come upstairs and check out my nutmeg collection?”) The second was the thought that spicy in the dining room must result in spicy in the bedroom. Here, our ancestors were on more solid ground. Chili peppers contain capsaicin, which is the chemical that makes you feel all hot and bothered. Capsaicin does this by increasing blood flow and stimulating the release of endorphins, which are usually good things for sexual arousal. Just don’t overdo it, there’s nothing sexy about indigestion.

What do you think? Do suggestively shaped foods put you in the mood? Or are you just going to stick to the chocolate and strawberries this Valentine’s Day?

Feb 12, 2015 BY Kate McDonald Walker
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