Aphrodisiac Foods: Chocolate, Oysters, and Spanish Fly?
Are any foods natural aphrodisiacs?
Christine Schultz and Catherine Boeckmann
February 16, 2024
For daily wit & wisdom, sign up for the Almanac newsletter.
No content available.
Since the beginning of time, stories about aphrodisiac foods have abounded. Who hasn’t heard that chocolates, wine, and oysters can get you “in the mood”? Where does this idea come from? And is it true? Let’s explore just how effective natural aphrodisiacs are.
What is an Aphrodisiac?
The word aphrodisiac comes from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, who has inspired cultures throughout the ages. An aphrodisiac is said to “get you in the mood,” heightening desire and even performance.
The idea has been around since, oh, the beginning of time. History is full of stories! For example:
Pliny the Elder recommended hippopotamus snout and hyena eyes.
Horace touted dried marrow and liver.
In Elizabethan times, prunes were so highly regarded as aphrodisiacs that they were served for free in brothels.
Casanova championed oysters.
Napoleon treasured truffles.
The Mharajah of Bikaner ingested crushed diamonds (!).
As you can tell, often, aphrodisiacs were historically hard to find and were rare and/or expensive foods or substances.
In the 17th Century, certain herbs or foods might be given to young married couples with the belief they would increase fertility.
The Science of Infatuation
What makes us infatuated? There are many factors; one is the brain chemical called phenylethylamine (PEA). This is a stimulant (related to amphetamine) that the brain releases in the early stages of infatuation. It’s the revver-upper that allows us to stay awake all night and lose our appetites. PEA races through the system of the thrill seeker, allowing the adventurer to feel alert, self-assured, and ready for whatever challenge awaits.
What makes us aroused? Physically, our blood flow is important. If you can relax the blood vessels and improve blood flow below the torso, this aids arousal. Some foods do improve blood flow (similar to the Viagra medication). However, if you already have normal circulation, it may not make a noticeable difference.
Are Any Foods Aphrodisiacs?
We know that dark chocolate has some health benefits. Also, we know that chocolate contains PEA and another chemical related to arousal, so you can see where the idea came from. However, the amounts are so small that scientists have been unable to link chocolate.
Furthermore, studies have shown that cocoa can relax blood vessels and increase blood flow in parts of our body beyond our torso. Dark chocolate also has anti-inflammatory properties that can improve blood flow. Dark chocolate also contains quercetin, which has anti-inflammatory properties that can improve blood flow. However, there is no clinical evidence to support enhanced performance.
The Mediterranean diet is linked to enhanced performance and libido. More than a single food, this is a lifestyle. Think of fish, nuts, healthy fats such as olive oil, herbs and spices, fresh fruit, and vegetables.
Some foods are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and avocado, which relaxes blood vessels. The Mediterranean diet helps support nerve function and supports blood flow and hormones.
Red wine seems linked to better performance because of its potential benefits to heart health. It’s also linked to the Mediterranean diet.
Alcohol, in general, has been shown to increase desire. However, too much alcohol takes away from performance. Alcohol is also a major cause of impotence.
In 1989, the US Food and Drug Administration banned advertisers from promoting pills or potions because testing had shown that none worked no matter what the contents—whether fennel or dried beetle bodies.
A few natural supplements (ginkgo, ginseng, and maca) show promise, but more clinical evidence is needed.
Some supplements containing insect or plant extracts can be toxic. Spanish fly is dangerous and can cause kidney damage and gastrointestinal bleeding.
Oysters have limited evidence of affecting desire. It would challenging to establish clinical proof. Why? How would you account for the ”placebo” effect …
It’s All in the Mind
Any foods that appeared to work as aphrodisiacs did so only because the user believed they would—the stimulant lies only in the user’s mind.
Yep, it’s mind over matter.
In other words, the imagination creates its own exciting possibilities, and the body leaps forward to fulfill the fantasies.
Think about it. Some of the way we feel comes from our memories, scents, environment, and other connections.
For example, scarfing Halloween candy isn’t the same context as a partner treating you to chocolate-covered strawberries.
The Last Stimulant You’ll Ever Need
If you need a definitive answer, we’ve got one.
Love is the most magnificent of aphrodisiacs.
Before you spend money on the goods, spend the time on your partner. Otherwise, nothing will work!
Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprise that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann