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Aphrodisiacs: Fact or Fiction?

Food really can put you in the mood; find out how.

Erotic Edibles Through History continued...

Chocolate is one of America's favorite "comfort foods," but to the ancient Aztecs, it offered a lot more than comfort -- it was considered a powerful aphrodisiac.

In the early 1980s, researchers thought they had solved the mystery of our love affair with chocolate. They detected the chemical phenyl ethylamine (PEA) in chocolate. PEA is a central nervous system stimulant, usually present in the human brain, that is thought to help arouse emotions. But the human body actually absorbs very little PEA from chocolate -- not enough to affect our emotions, anyway. So, it seems the sexiest thing about chocolate is its taste and melt-in-your-mouth texture -- which, in my estimation, is not too shabby!

In 14th century Europe, the spice trade from Asia added herbs and spices into the aphrodisiac equation. Historical accounts suggest that many of these foods ­ like cloves, anise seed, cinnamon, ginger, white pepper, cardamom, and thyme -- had sterling aphrodisiac reputations in their native regions.

The fact that potatoes (both sweet and white) were new to Europe in the 16th century helped perpetuate the belief that they possessed sexual powers. Other vegetables joined their aphrodisiac ranks in the 16th through 18th centuries, namely carrots (the vegetable, juice, and seeds) and the juice of asparagus.

By the 18th century, the influence of phallically oriented foods, such as eel, carrots, and asparagus, had taken shape (pun intended). Various bulb vegetables thought to resemble testicles, like the onion, were thought to affect a man's potency.

Other than their appearance and shape, there are five other qualities of foods that are thought to elicit sensuality. Foods considered sexy are generally those that are:

  • Smooth
  • Rich
  • Creamy
  • Exotic
  • Spicy

So if you're planning a romantic dinner, take note. Why not try to serve a dish that fits into each of those categories?

"You can also capitalize on foods from your sexual past -- perhaps foods that you ate before or during a particularly pleasurable sexual encounter."

And speaking of food characteristics, remember that subtle is sexier than in-your-face. Phallic and shapely foods, as well as the exotic and rare, will probably always be in aphrodisiac fashion. But these days we appreciate foods that suggest sex with a whisper instead of a shout. So instead of serving your sweetie a dessert that makes him or her think, "Yup, that looks like a male body part," try something more discreet ­ say, a brandy-baked banana half, drizzled with chocolate sauce.

Let's Not Forget the Placebo Effect

A placebo is an inactive substance -- like a sugar pill -- given to a research participant who is under the impression it is a drug. So the "placebo effect" is when the belief that something is helping has as much or more of a therapeutic effect than the substance itself.

So if a person thinks eating raw oysters will give a jolt to her sex drive and sexual stamina, her anticipation of this powerful effect can help it come true.

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