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Foods Thought To Act As Aphrodisiacs

Talk about foods of love: How about foods that might double as aphrodisiacs?!

On The Early Show Friday, with Valentine's Day only a day away, Food & Wine magazine's head of special projects, Gail Simmons, showed some foods traditionally considered desire-inspirers, explained how they've got that reputation, and noted a few you may not have thought of as being in that category.

These all may ad a special spark to a romantic dinner!

Aphrodisiacs are foods or drinks believed to increase sexual desire or fertility. They're named after Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.

Though the Food and Drug Administration has explicitly stated that no food holds such powers, many people prefer to ignore that finding. After all, much can be made of the power of suggestion, and if you believe something is romantic or sensual, than it is, right?!

Many foods traditionally considered aphrodisiacs are high in certain nutrients that used to be hard to obtain or that bodies were lacking. In the Greek and Roman days, when many of these patterns developed, people simply weren't as healthy as we are today; their diets weren't as diverse, and undernourishment creates a loss of libido and reduces fertility rates. Fertility and reproduction were an important part of society; foods that made it easier to become pregnant were highly valued.

OYSTERS

When you say "aphrodisiac," this is the food that immediately comes to mind for most people. Legend has it that Casanova would eat 50 raw oysters for breakfast every day! Oysters are packed with zinc, the ultimate sexual mineral. Zinc is linked to fertility, potency and sex-drive. It triggers an increase in testosterone and other sex hormones. Oysters are also simply a great way to kick off a romantic evening! Raw oysters on the half-shell are the traditional "sexy" way to eat this food, but if you can't stand eating them raw, Gail also suggests roasting them, as they are in this recipe.

HONEY

Honey has always been believed to aid in fertility. Considered the nectar of Aphrodite, newlyweds would faithfully drink honeyed beer and honeyed wine for a month (one cycle of the moon) following their marriage -- hence, the tradition of taking a "honeymoon"! An easy way to serve honey is drizzled over crostini with fresh ricotta cheese.

By the way, you'll notice that all of the dishes Simmons suggested are finger foods: It's generally agreed that eating with the fingers is sensual, no matter what you're consuming!

CAVIAR

Eggs were traditionally believed to be an aphrodisiac because they represented fertility. Thanks to its luxurious perception, caviar (fish eggs) is doubly romantic! American caviar is much less expensive than Caspian caviar, but at $65 an ounce, it's still a luxurious treat on Valentine's Day, and Simmons says it's high quality. Perhaps more importantly, American caviar is sustainably raised, so it doesn't deplete the seas. Simmons showed caviar and its traditional accompaniments -- capers, chopped egg and red onion, crème fraiche. She pointed out that you should never eat caviar with a metal spoon, since that gives the pricey treat an off flavor. Food & Wine recommends Tsar Nicoulai Select California Estate Osetra, $65 per oz)

CHOCOLATE

This is the food traditionally associated with Valentine's Day. The Aztecs called chocolate the "nourishment of the Gods," and Aztec emperor Montezume reportedly drank up to 50 cups daily in an effort to improve his intimate encounters! It's been proven that eating chocolate releases natural "feel-good" chemicals, such as seratonin, into the blood. Some studies report that women release more endorphins after eating chocolate than after kissing their significant other! Men, don't take any chances: Stock up on chocolate now! Of course, there are a million different chocolates for sale out there. Food & Wine has tracked down its favorites, specifically:
Green & Black's Organic Ginger Bar ($3.50)
Dove Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate ($2 for 3.5 oz)
Christopher Elbow No. 6 Dark Rocks ($7 for 3.5 oz)

UNUSUAL APHRODISIACS

All the foods discussed so far are commonly thought of as aphrodisiacs. But there are MANY others out there, and they vary from culture-to-culture. Here are some surprising items believed to increase desire or fertility:

  • Arugula: Believe it or not, this is one of the oldest, original aphrodisiacs. It's a little unclear exactly why the Egyptians and Romans were so high on it, but its powers have been documented again and again.
  • Asparagus: OK, sorry, have to say it: Some foods are considered aphrodisiacs simply based on their appearance. That said, in the 1880s, the French would give it to men on their wedding night,and Indians believe it helps increase circulation to major organs.
  • Avocado: The Myans and Aztecs used this as a libido booster, and it's said that, during avocado harvest season, young women of these cultures were kept indoors, away from the fruit.
  • Pine Nuts: Like oysters, these little nuts are full of zinc, and so also responsible for releasing testosterone and other essential hormones into the body.
  • Chili Peppers: Capsaicin, a chemical that stimulates our nerve endings and raises our pulse, is responsible for the "heat" in chili peppers. Flushed face, racing pulse -- perhaps spicy foods and romance do have a lot in common!
  • Almonds: This nut has been considered sensual and a sign of fertility for thousands of years. It's said that the aroma of almonds evokes feelings of passion in women!
  • Licorice: OK, so maybe Twizzlers aren't an aphrodisiac, but licorice root and anise seed have long been considered to arouse amorous feelings.
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