On Valentine’s Day, we reach for treats believed to have aphrodisiac qualities: chocolates, strawberries, oysters. But can food really bring heat to the bedroom, or is it just wishful thinking?
An aphrodisiac is a food or drug that is said to increase sexual desire and/or boost pleasure and performance. Named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, aphrodisiacs have a long history and people across the ages have done some extreme eating in pursuit of carnal nirvana – think sparrows, rhinoceros horn, and an emerald-green beetle known as the Spanish fly.
Less crunchy (and more accessible) foods of love include oysters – a reasonably solid bet, since they’re rich in zinc (which plays a part in the production of testosterone) and energy-boosting amino acids – and honey, hailed by Hippocrates as a libido booster. A number of fruits and vegetables make it onto the lust list largely because of their suggestive shapes: think bananas, apples, cherries, dates, figs, peaches, and pomegranates. And it turns out that five of our smoothie ingredients also have a certain amount of sexy cred, as we’ll see in a moment.
Wait - here come the scientists to throw a bucket of cold water on our sizzling daydreams. Sadly, the US Food and Drug Administration says there is no such thing as an aphrodisiac food. The majority of natural substances claimed to have sex-boosting qualities have no proven efficacy when tested scientifically.
But as the Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán says, in Immoral Recipes (a book filled with erotic essays and gastronomic meals designed to seduce): “No one has ever succeeded at seduction by means of food alone, but there’s a long list of those who have been seduced by talking about that which was to be eaten.”
So, whilst there is little proof that they’ll bring some extra bedroom oomph, we are going to talk about our five sexiest smoothie ingredients, because maybe, when it comes to the libido, every little helps.
Shaped like a little red heart (or perhaps an intimate part of the female anatomy?), the strawberry is associated with Venus, the goddess of love. It later became known as a symbol of fertility because of its multitude of exterior seeds.
Strawberries are rich in antioxidants – which may play a role in promoting sexual health – and Vitamin C, which helps good blood flow. They also contain minerals such as magnesium, potassium and folate – believed to support a healthy sex drive.
The Latin name for the cacao tree is Theobroma cacao, derived from the Greek words for god (theo) and food (brosi), roughly translating as ‘food of the gods’. To many, that food is not cacao, but chocolate – high up on the aphrodisiac list – but so often laden with sugar, milk and other additives that the bad ultimately outweighs the good. Not so with pure cacao, which is high in fiber and antioxidants (these improve blood flow and lower blood pressure). Cacao also helps to reduce stress – a major contributor to lack of sexual appetite. It contains phenylethylamine which increases serotonin and dopamine production which can help with a feeling of happiness and – in some cases – euphoria.
According to legend, the Aztec ruler Montezuma is said to have consumed up to 50 cups of cocoa elixir before he entered his harem, whilst Aztec women were banned from drinking it because of its aphrodisiac properties. These days, a hot cup of cocoa – with its soporific qualities – is known as a different kind of bedtime drink altogether.
Once more valuable than gold, nobles burned cinnamon bark in the bedroom to get them in the mood for loving. Seen as a symbol of wealth and status, cinnamon was believed to help fan the flames of desire because its rich aroma fired up the senses and induced a feeling of warmth; increasing the temperature of the body can stimulate sex drive. Its rich scent can also help with a massive sexual no-no – bad breath. Cinnamon has some of the highest levels of antioxidants in any natural food. Made from the inner bark of the Cinnamomum tree, cinnamon is a source of manganese, a mineral essential to sexual health that can help with desire. It is also, ahem, said to provide sexual stimulation when cinnamon essential oil is rubbed directly onto the genitals – though we’d like to be very clear: don’t try this at home.
Chilli peppers can rev up your metabolism, reduce inflammation and improve circulation. And some believe that they help bring a different kind of heat into the bedroom. Chilli peppers contain the chemical capsaicin, which triggers the release of endorphins and creates a temporary high. It is also believed to increase testosterone in men. Some research links capsaicin with improved blood flow and blood vessel health, lending a scrap of scientific credibility to the belief that it aids in achieving and sustaining erections. In some traditional cultures, it was held that ingestion of the pepper also led to stronger ejaculations and more intense orgasms.
You’ll find cayenne pepper in our scarlets.
This root is sometimes referred to in South America as ‘Peruvian viagra’ (it is also known as ‘Peruvian ginseng’) and is often used to boost libido. Grown in the Andes mountains, maca is ground into a powder. It is an adaptogen which helps your body create the enzymes it needs to balance hormones and improve fertility.
Maca contains flavonoids, which are thought to improve mood and reduce anxiety. There is some scientific evidence that it does increase sex drive as well as help men with erectile dysfunction. It also boosts energy and endurance, and we know how helpful that can be when things get heated. Another study found that its consumption increased semen quality and another reported that when taken by menopausal women – a period in a woman’s life when the libido can often hit rock bottom – there was a reduction in night sweats and hot flashes, two conditions that can often blow any thoughts of passion out of the window.
You’ll find maca in our rubies.