February 12, 2009

Alluring Aphrodisiacs

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How many people actually understand food? We know how it tastes and we know when it is good for us, but do we know how it works and how to make it taste its best? As a sophomore nutrition student, I have dedicated my time to demystifying the great unknowns of food. Growing up in a family with a deeply rooted Italian heritage has nurtured me to be the self-proclaimed “foodie” that I am today. I am wildly passionate about chocolate, sushi, red wine, and freshly baked bread. Unfortunately, my favorite indulgences don’t quite mesh with my hopes to lead a nutritious lifestyle. Instead, I am embarking on an ambitious pursuit to discover delicious, yet healthful foods. Through Chop, Dice, Simmer, and Slice, I hope to let you in on my food revelations and show you the quirkier side of food – starting with aphrodisiacs in honor of Valentine’s Day!

Ancient Aztecs ate avocados picked from the “Ahuacuatl”, or the “testicle tree” and drank copious amounts of chocolate with the belief that it was a sex elixir from the gods. Casanova binged on pounds of oysters before one of his infamous pursuits for a woman. For thousands of years, food has been hailed to be one of the sexiest ways to succeed in the pursuit of seduction. Aphrodisiacs, foods famed for pumping up libido and desire, have a shady reputation and have yet to be proven to be more than just folklore. But with Valentine’s Day around the corner, it may be fun to indulge in folklore and entice your favorite foodie with some tantalizing “aphrodisiacs.”

Named after the Greek goddess of love, aphrodisiacs have an appropriate place in Valentine’s Day tradition. While these sexy foods have been established to create a more psychological response rather than a physical one, some evidence shows that they may contribute to other aspects of sex and seduction.

Food is a complete sensory experience. Aromatic smells, unique textures, enticing tastes, and appealing visuals all mesh together to contribute to the pleasure of a food. For example, foods in suggestive phallic shapes, such as cucumbers, bananas, chili peppers, and oysters, contribute to visual stimulation and trigger sexual excitement. Also, studies done at the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation concluded that blood flow to the genitals increased for males from the smell of pumpkin and lavender and for females from cucumber and licorice.

While no food has ever been recorded to cause a fluctuation of sex hormones due to its consumption, they do have the ability to at least set the mood. While many believe chocolate is a cliché on Valentine’s Day, it contains chemicals that stimulate the production of mood-enhancing serotonin. Honey, a favorite of our Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, is said to be an energy-booster. Red wine delivers similar benefits as chocolate and also facilitates in relaxation.

When creating a menu of aphrodisiacs for Valentine’s Day, I really recommend steering clear of some of the ancient traditions. There is nothing less sexy than powdered rhinoceros horn or Spanish fly. Instead, check out Bonappetit’s “Sexy Food Slideshow” for some modern day ideas.