From Pliny the Elder to Casanova, food has long been haloed and hailed as the ultimate portal to venery, a lovely word that has undeservedly fallen into disuse. Oysters, rose petals, chocolate, chile peppers, licorice, star anise — there is no shortage of ingredients reputed over the centuries to stir ardor. So is there any truth to these claims?
Nope. Not if you listen to the FDA, anyway, which in 1989 turned a cold shower on the whole idea of aphrodisiacs, thus dismissing 5,000 years of such truffling as pure folklore. But who needs science? Folklore is way more fun.
There is not a lot of literature on the subject of aphrodisiac cooking. The best-known work on the subject, "Venus in the Kitchen: Recipes for Seduction," edited by Norman Douglas, was first published in 1952. It is a truly strange book, containing such gems as Hare Croquettes, Pie of Bulls' Testicles, Eels à la del Sbugo, and last but not least, skink (a type of lizard). Douglas offers no commentary on any of the aforementioned.
Considerably more approachable is Amy Reiley's book "Fork Me, Spoon Me: The Sensual Cookbook." Reiley, who produces a newsletter called "Aphrodisiac of the Month" and the Web site http://www.lifeofreiley.com, has divided the book into categories identical to "The Joy of Sex" (the book was designed by Deborah Daly, who also designed the original "Joy"). Part cooking manual and part sensual self-help, "Fork Me, Spoon Me" focuses on what she considers the 12 most potent aphrodisiacs. Below are the winners and a collection of recipes for each one.
Chile Peppers: Their heat releases endorphins, the primary pleasure enzyme.
Peaches: This mouthwatering fruit is rich in potassium and vitamins A and C, and contains iron — all "noted nutrients for improving horizontal salsa."
Mint: Breath-sweetening mint is also known "for increasing appetites of all kinds."
Ginger: Whether raw, pickled, or candied, this root is said to increase sensitivity in the erogenous zones.
Honey: The "Nectar of Aphrodite" (and the root of the word "honeymoon"), honey boosts energy, according to Reiley.
Chocolate: Reiley recommends nibbling on dark chocolate for a "serotonin boost" and a modest amount of caffeine.
Mangoes: "The muse of poets and philosophers since the beginning of recorded time, mangoes are prescribed in India to increase male libido," says Reiley.
Saffron: The rare and expensive spice has been used throughout history in rituals of beauty and love, according to Reiley.
Almonds: "These protein-rich morsels are outstanding in helping sustain stamina" and their blossoms are "an international symbol of fertility."
Rosemary: With its invigorating aroma and flavor, "rosemary could easily be called one of the kitchen's most sensual foods."
Vanilla:The scent of this podlike fruit of an orchid is said to arouse both men and women.
Figs:When cut open, this fruit is said to resemble a certain female body part. It is also rich in energy-boosting iron.
Pan-Roasted Sizzling Shrimp
Duck Breast with Roasted Peaches and Walnut-Parsley Fried Rice
Wildflower-Honey Semifreddo with Honey Sesame Wafers
Striped Bass with Saffron Vegetables and Spiced Broccoli Rabe