Some of the more popular aphrodisiacs (like chocolate, chile peppers and maca, a Peruvian root) have a scientific basis for their claims
It may be true that "power is the ultimate aphrodisiac" -- as former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once famously observed -- but in this most romantic of months, something lovin' from the oven may be more of a turn-on than a big title or fat bank account.
Aphrodisiacs -- named for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love -- include any food, drug or drink that arouses sexual desire. Some of the more popular (like chocolate, chile peppers and maca, a Peruvian root) have a scientific basis for their claims; others are more about their appearance than their nutritional impact (think bananas, asparagus and figs).
Some fruits considered aphrodisiacs have a long human history. The ancient Romans, for example, were particularly fond of apples -- once thought to be the forbidden fruit of Biblical fame -- and sweet, juicy, heart-shaped strawberries, which became a symbol of Venus, the Roman goddess of love.
Pomegranates, which actually may have been the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, are also associated with Aphrodite, who is said to have planted the first pomegranate tree. The pomegranate's many seeds make it a natural fertility symbol -- an honor it shares with figs, said to be Cleopatra's favorite fruit.
Honey also has a centuries-long association with romance. The tradition of newly married couples taking a "honeymoon" may be based on the older custom of the pair drinking mead, a honey-based fermented beverage, until the first moon of their new union. Hippocrates -- the Greek physician considered the father of medicine -- ordered honey to increase sexual vigor. Modern science supports that prescription: honey contains boron, which may affect hormone levels, and nitric oxide, a substance released into the blood stream during arousal.
The capsaicin in chile, an aphrodisiac known to Aztec emperor Montezuma, can simulate arousal by plumping up your lips and putting a flush on your face. The peppers turn up body heat by increasing pulse rate, improving circulation and releasing adrenaline and endorphins, the feel-good chemicals that can reduce the awareness of pain and increase energy.
Chocolate, though, reigns supreme as the queen of culinary aphrodisiacs. The aforementioned Montezuma reputedly consumed 50 cups of chile-laden hot chocolate per day to meet his connubial obligations, and the cacao makes an appearance in famed Italian lover Casanova's autobiography. Science ascribes chocolate's supposed passion-inducing effect to phenylethylamine and tryptophan, brain chemicals associated with falling in love and sexual arousal.
Is the effect of aphrodisiac foods on the libido real -- or just another example of the power of suggestion to influence experience and behavior?
Does the answer matter?
You can conduct your own study by using a few of these reputedly sexy ingredients to create a more romantic dinner. Some suggestions:
Add pomegranate seeds to a salad; turn the juice into a martini or vodka, gin or tequila-based cocktail.
Make a honey-mustard dipping sauce for chicken fingers, roasted or fried potatoes; turn up the heat by adding some hot sauce to the mix.
Increase the amount of roasted green chile or green or red chile sauce you layer on or into steak, burgers, quesadillas, burritos, cream gravy, mac and cheese, rice … whatever.
Serve a bowl of fresh figs drizzled with honey for dessert.
Dip some firm, ripe strawberries into a bowl of melted chocolate sauce, set aside to set, then feed them, slowly, to your significant other.
What could be sweeter?
The Spanish version of this story is here.
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