A is for Aphrodisiac

The first food I remember tasting and feeling an overwhelming sense of pleasure  from was rice pudding. It was evening when my grandparents arrived home from a dinner out, and they thought to bring a pint of rice pudding home. I may have been about six or seven at the time. The container was treated as a magical vessel, the way my grandfather spooned the pudding out into a small bowl for my dessert. Plump raisins speckled the pudding among the creamy rice, scent of cinnamon and vanilla. The raisins burst in my mouth with juicy surprise, and the heavy cream, so voluptuous and decadent on my tongue. Such sensuality was intensely memorable, particularly at such a young age.

Rice pudding was my first sensual food experience, and then there was the bowl of fresh strawberries, chopped up and swirled into sour cream with heaping amounts of brown sugar. Such were the beginnings of my culinary taste buds. As a girl, one with wonder about magic potions, and spells cast by witches and wizards in fairy tales, the idea of an aphrodisiac captivated me.

The potion that makes one fall in love seemed the most appealing. Whether it was made by a witch or concocted in the kitchen, that concept of creating something to evoke a strong desire, and love. Inspiration and seduction, the spell cast by pots and pans, by stirring exotic spices into a pot of soup, or blending a secret ingredient into your amour’s drink, the outcome would be unbridled pleasure.

The desire for pleasure is something that is deeply embedded in human longing. We seek out pleasure in food, drink, and love. There are many aspects to pleasure, of course, from having our hair washed at the salon,  feeling the warm sun on our skin, stretching our body out in a comfortable bed after a good sleep, to making love, perhaps, in that morning or any other moment, and tasting something we truly enjoy. The idea of food as a magical substance that enhances our desires, that makes our love interest want us intensely, that inspires lovers to greater moments of passion, is an idea that has existed for centuries.

In New Orleans I knew a Voudou Priestess who had a little shop (botanica) where she gave tarot readings and dispensed love potions, spells, candles, and magical oils to her believers. I danced on Bayou St. John in celebration of the famous New Orleans Voudou Queen, Marie Laveau’s birthday. Erzulie was honored into the sacred space for the ceremony. Erzulie is the Voudou goddess of love, romance, art, passion and sex. Beauty and love are her creations. People came in seeking help with their love life. The Voudou “orisha” or “goddess” Erzulie is their version of Aphrodite, and she is called upon for love spells in particular.

The word “aphrodisiac” derives from the Goddess of Love and Sex, Aphrodite. She herself was born of the sea, emerging on a clam shell, created from sea foam. The “clam shell” has vaginal suggestions, and the sea, amniotic fluid, birthing from ‘sea foam’, which makes one think of semen. At least I think of semen when imagining sea foam.

Oysters are a known aphrodisiac, and the shells that glimmer with their opalescent promises of sexual stamina and male virility. Perhaps, then, sea cucumbers and geoducks might suffice for an obvious male aphrodisiac? Why oysters, with their feminine sexual offerings? But time has given meaning to these myths of aphrodisiacal qualities, and we don’t question the powers of the mysterious rites of sex.

Abalone, acai berry, apples, apricots, and even arugula are thought of as “aphrodisiacs”. Asparagus with its phallic spear, Avocado with its feminine vulva and center (pit) like a womb of green fecundity. Bananas are all too suggestive when eating. Basil was a Roman symbol of love. Champagne, bubbling and effervescent, inspires delight and tastes of romance, celebration. Yes, chocolate, for a multitude of reasons, is considered an aphrodisiac, without any doubt its mood-enhancing power is scientifically proven. Cherries are juicy and red, sensual to suck on, bite, turn the pit around in one’s mouth.

  • Almonds a symbol of fertility throughout history. The fragrance is believed to inspire a woman’s passion.
  • Anise According to Greek and Roman history, sucking on anise seed stimulates desire.
  • Arugula Since the early ages, arugula and pistachio are known aphrodisiacs.
  • Asparagus An aphrodisiac because of its phallic shape.
  • Avocado The Aztecs believed avocado was a symbol of sexuality.
  • Bananas One glance at a phallic banana, and you know why. Also rich in potassium and vitamin B which help hormone production.
  • Basil Basil is said to increase libido and fertility.
  • Beetroot: With its passionate red color, beetroot is a rich source of the mineral boron which helps produce sex hormones.
  • Carrots: Men who wan a stronger libido should add carrots to their diet.
  • Cayenne pepper: This fiery spice is known to heat the sexual drive.
  • Chili peppers: Eating these causes the release of endorphins which are natural painkillers, and also cause the same high as extreme physical exertion. Chili peppers increase heart rate, which quickens the pulse and makes for an exciting evening.
  • Champagne: A symbol of celebration, because of champagne’s tiny bubbles, the intoxicating effect of the wine is carried more quickly into the blood stream. The aromas of dry champagnes are also said to replicate the scents of female pheromones.
  • Cherries: A classic symbol of love, cherries’ rich red color and burst of performance-enhancing nutrients make this a perfect fruit to have on hand for a romantic evening. Certain cherries are believed to stimulate pheromone production.
  • Chocolate/cacao: The Aztecs referred to chocolate as “food of the Gods”. Chocolate contains the aphrodisiac phenyl ethylamine, which releases the same hormone as sex. It also contains the feel-good hormone serotonin and caffeine to race things up. It has more antioxidants than red wine. To really inspire your passion, you can have chocolate and red wine together.
  • Cranberries: These little crimson berries are full of vitamin C and fiber to keep you feeling frisky.
  • Garlic: The ‘heat’ in garlic is said to stir sexual desires. Used as an aphrodisiac since the Egyptians, the Romans consecrated it to Ceres, the goddess of fertility.
  • Nutmeg: Nutmeg was highly prized by Chinese women as an aphrodisiac and Hindus used it to raise body heat and sweeten breath. In general, it evokes the warmth and comfort of home. Dangerous in large quantity as nutmeg can produce a hallucinogenic effect and health hazards. Just use it sparingly.
  • Nuts: Nuts are packed with protein and a healthy source of fat, which helps produce testosterone. Nuts are cholesterol free – the perfect natural aphrodisiac.
  • Pomegranate: A bright, passionate red, the pomegranate’s color suggests desire. Pomegranates were a symbol of Aphrodite. In ancient Middle Eastern cultures, this aphrodisiac fruit’s many seeds were considered a visual symbol of virility. The fruit was even recommended as a natural aphrodisiac in the Kama Sutra.
  • Raspberries and strawberries: Both of these little fruits are called ‘fruit nipples’ in erotic literature and are perfect for hand feeding your lover. Strawberries were considered an aphrodisiac in ancient Rome, where they were a symbol of Venus.
  • Tomatoes: Once banned by the Catholics for fear it would evoke lust in the young members of its church, the tomato was nick-named the ‘love apple’ when it arrived in Europe from South America. With its bright red color, soft flesh and sweet yet tangy flavor, maybe the tomato isn’t so innocent after all.
  • Vanilla: Its power is in its aroma – before vanilla can hit the tongue, the hypothalamus, the gland that controls memory and emotion, jumps into action, evoking feelings connected with vanilla’s powerful scent. Both the scent and flavor of vanilla is believed to increase lust.

One key aphrodisiac: Cinnamon.

Cinnamon, the scent, beguiling for men in particular, and used in the greatest aphrodisiac scents: pumpkin pie and cinnamon buns.

At the top of “sexy smells” according to recent studies was both pumpkin pie and cinnamon buns. Yes, baking a pumpkin pie could be considered seduction.Want to spice up your sex life? Make homemade cinnamon buns.

There are fabulous resources available for aphrodisiac seekers like myself— one of the best books on the subject of “hunger and the psyche” is Bunny Crumpacker’s book “The Sex Life of Food” — this is my favorite book to bring along when dining alone. Imagine the curious looks I get from other diners when they observe me reading this at the table.

There is a wonderful book by Amy Reiley and Juan-Carlos Cruz called The Love Diet :

“A lifestyle plan for a healthy sex life for life, The Love Diet shares ingredients and recipes known to sustain a healthy libido as well as promote energy, mood, glowing skin and cardiovascular health.

The Love Diet is not a starvation program or crazy fad. No one food is off-limits on our plan. We just help readers understand how to reduce unhealthy ingredients and pack the diet with desired nutrients and more sustainable ingredients at the same time as delivering sensual textures and taste bud tittlating flavors.”

Figs are also an aphrodisiac. A symbol of a woman’s sex, figs are sensual, exotic.

Explore some aphrodisiacs, enjoy with your lover, or inspire yourself in the kitchen. Aphrodisiacs don’t need to apply to just romance, they can also uplift our mood, giving us a sensual experience of life and living. Create recipes using figs and other aphrodisiacs that appeal to you.

Papayas are also amazing for one’s sexual health: papaya has compounds that act as the female hormone estrogen. It has been used as a folk remedy in promoting menstruation and milk production, facilitating childbirth and increasing the female libido.

But in Guatemala, men eat papayas as an aphrodisiac. Aside from all the sexual reasons, papaya is incredibly good for our health: The milky juice that comes out from unripe papaya fruit is a good digestive aid. It stimulates the secretion of gastric juice, and is used in cases of stomach discomfort like dyspepsia. Commonly used as a cooking ingredient. the unripe or green papaya also has a digestive enzyme called papain which tenderizes meat. Papain is also used as a digestive aid and is said to have anti-inflammatory benefits.

Being healthy is sexy. We feel sexier when we are healthy also. And cooking for our lover can be an adventure, gathering the “magical” ingredients to woo our beloved, taking the time and putting love into what we make. Like Water For Chocolate is a favorite film of mine based on the novel by Laura Esquivel. My favorite scene is when Tita makes her famous “aphrodisiac” dinner of quail in rose petal sauce:

“Tita’s strong emotions become infused into her cooking and she unintentionally begins to affect the people around her through the food she prepares. After one particularly rich meal of quail in rose petal sauce flavored with Tita’s erotic thoughts of Pedro, Tita’s older sister Gertrudis becomes inflamed with lust and leaves the ranch making ravenous love with a revolutionary soldier on the back of a horse before being dumped in a brothel and subsequently disowned by her mother.”

Another book that inspires is by Isabel Allende: Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses—- “In this bawdy memoir-cum-cookbook, Allende has put together an apothecary of aphrodisiacs, from snake’s blood and rhinoceros horn to the more commonplace and more palatable oysters, “those seductive tears of the sea, which lend themselves to slipping from mouth to mouth like a prolonged kiss … can be purchased in bottles, but there they look like malignant tumors; in contrast, moist and turgid in their shells they suggest delicate vulvae–a prime example of food that appeals to the eye.”

“If cookbooks make up part of your library,” Allende notes, “books on eroticism should, too.”

Love magic and spells are part of ancient history.

“Eros spells” were mainly practiced by men and prostitutes in Ancient Greece. Eros spells were used to instill lust and passion into women, leading them to fulfill the man who invoked the spell.

“Love magic” was also practiced during the Renaissance period (14th to 17th centuries) and was both Christian and Pagan. It was taken quite seriously and sometimes hidden in pseudo-religious acts of candle lighting and prayer. It was also cast upon those of wealth and status, and used carefully due to the social and physical dangers involved in casting “love spells” during the Renaissance of Europe.

Tristan and Isolde is a tale that involves a “love elixir”: After defeating the Irish knight Morholt, Tristan travels to Ireland to bring back the fair Iseult for his uncle King Mark to marry. Along the way, they drink a love potion that causes the pair to fall madly in love. The story is told in many ways, and the effects of love elixir vary from tale to tale.

There was a chef I once was completely enamored with. He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. A handsome, strong, tall Korean man with a sweet disposition, very shy, and a talented sushi chef. I dined at his restaurant just to eat whatever he decided to make for me. Being vegetarian, perhaps this illustrates my desire. I ate any kind of sushi, sashimi, and anything else he conjured. It was exquisite, the mystery. He served me at my table, rather than at a “sushi bar”. Kneeling at my eye level before my table, he looked at me with his penetrating eyes, and softly asked me, “What would you like tonight?” My answer could have been lusty and direct, but that would have ruined the magic. He flirted with me through food. It was as delicate as his sweet shrimp and baby lobster roll, as luxurious as his creamy sauces.

I will never forget the rainy night when I entered the warm candlelit interior of the restaurant, damp with rain. I was hungry. I had just spent several hours in my Japanese language class, and drove across the city, stomach grumbling, dizzy with hunger. The restaurant was quiet that night. Just the few waitstaff, the bartender, and me at my table. I was alone with my chef. I could see him from my table through the open space of the kitchen, in his indigo dyed yukata, his broad shoulders, his head wrapped with the same color “hachimaki” (head bandana). His face was illuminated by the indigo dyed fabric, smiling at me from the kitchen. He came out and asked me if I was especially hungry. Of course I was about to faint.  Swooning. He said, “I know just what to make for you.”

As he bustled around the kitchen, he was a magician. There was something unusual going on. The sound of the rain, droplets on the windows sparkling with the lights from neon signs, the busy street, the interior candles. glimmering. The sounds of clanging pans and stainless steel bowls. He was not wrapping rolls or cutting fish, but using the stove. I noticed the shape of his body far off in the kitchen, doing something with a pan.

He returned with a plate of the most fragile lacy crepes, pahjun, or “pajeon”, made with scallions and other julienned vegetables inside a warm thin pancake. They are also known as authentic Korean “boochoo jun” (chive pancake). They arrived by his hands before me, the glorious scent, his hands near me, our eyes met over the dish, his gaze spiced with heat. He explained that I use my hands, gesturing to my hands, a slight touch to my skin, and his fingers to his luscious mouth, he said, “just dip and eat.”

The pajeon came with a dipping sauce that was fragrant and sweet— he had made it himself. He told me it had ginger, sesame, garlic. Something sweet also. Love? Desire?

An unforgettable aphrodisiac dinner, and the memory of that rainy night.