Appetite, hunger, satiated, starved; all can be applied to both our relationship with food and with sex. In fact, humans have forever whipped up the two to form one great gateaux of food-related sexual innuendos, rituals, and fetishist foreplay.
You only need look at popular culture throughout the ages to find the constant intermingling of both elements that drive our most basic of instincts. From Shakespeare’s foodie metaphors for the sexual act (when comparing sexual escapades, pals Mercutio and Romeo refer to semen as ‘sharp sauce’ and the vagina it’s ‘served into’ as a ‘sweet goose’) to our modern aubergine emoji – what feeds us nutritionally speaking has long been mixed up with what feeds us sexually.
"Chowing down on human flesh, or sucking on the blood of fellow sapiens, has been a sexual predilection for hundreds of years"
The mix-ups are played out in cinema, too. Many eyes will never un-see actor Jason Biggs’ famous fingering (then fucking) of the now infamous ‘American Pie’, after his friends helpfully describe the vagina as ‘warm apple pie.’ More recently (and quite possibly more sensual to watch) was actor Timothée Chalamet’s character Elio doing the dirty with a juicy peach in Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name.
“All earthly cultures use food to provoke, kindle, stoke, enhance or prolong the ardour between the sexes,” says Lana Citron, author of Edible Pleasures, a new textbook of aphrodisiacs. It would seem then, that food (if not the aesthetics of it, but the feel, taste and scientific effect of it on our systems) has been getting us going for time immemorial. Just in time for Valentin e’s, we’ve put together a list of the sexiest, raunchiest, rowdiest aphrodisiacs known to man; if you’re looking for the right ingredients to spice up your love life, look no further.
The Chinese look to the phallic sea cucumber as a cure for poor libido. Apparently, according to Citron, food can be a psycho-physiological aphrodisiac, which would give the Chinese ample reason to chow down.
Is there any scientific foundation to the love-cucumber from the east though? “I have held one and squeezed hard but have not yet brought it to my lips,” says aphrodisiac expert Citron. However, “they’re very popular in China, Malaysia, Korea, and Indonesia. [They’re] rich in vitamin C, zinc, magnesium, and niacin, which helps reduce muscle tension and increases blood flow, which is good for sex hormones and a healthy sperm count”.
Each year, the Serbians host the World Testicle Cooking Championship, bringing together a whole bunch of ball-munching enthusiasts for a cook-off that promises a dish that’s ‘better for the libido than any viagra’. Chefs are judged on both the taste and the aphrodisiacal quality of their boiled, fried, or baked bollocks.
Before you say ‘bollocks to that’, the Serbians may well actually be on to something. According to Citron, the dried testicles of deer, tiger, seal and beaver have long been used in Chinese sex tonics. “I have not personally tried bulls’ testicles, or tigers’, or goats’,” she says, “but some swear by them. The belief is that you can imbibe vigour and vitality from them.”
The ‘aphrodisiac’ shares its roots with the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, meaning ‘born of the (sea) foam’. In Greek mythology, Aphrodite (or Venus, if you were Roman) was born of a scallop or oyster shell. This may well be why since ancient times, seafood has been linked with lovemaking in this part of the world.
Aesthetically speaking, the oyster resembles female genitalia, which in itself could be considered arousing. In Denmark, oysters are aptly named ‘vulva fish’, while in Italy, the famed lothario Casanova was said to gollop down fifty for breakfast. On the matter of taste and texture, the salty, mellifluous composition of an oyster might well be compared to semen - although you’d be very lucky to wash down semen with a glass of champagne.
Does it actually work? Lana Citron concludes there might well be scientific reasoning behind Europeans’ love of oysters and their rumoured libidinous effects. “The oyster is high in iron and zinc, which raises sperm and testosterone production and increases the libido,” she says. Casanova was onto something.
Another popular Greek (and Middle Eastern) aphrodisiac is honey, which was linked to ‘ambrosia’, the nectar that in Greek mythology bestowed those consuming it with eternal life.
According to Citron, the Arabs actually believed that eating honey would prolong the sexual act, while in Eastern Europe, newly married couples lick honey from each other’s palms as a wedding custom to ensure soft caresses and only sweet words.
"The Serbians host the World Testicle Cooking Championship, bringing together a whole bunch of ball-munching enthusiasts for a cook-off that’s better for the libido than any viagra"
Modern Greeks serve up their honey drizzled on walnuts and Greek yogurt, combining testosterone and oestrogen inducing boron (found in honey) with amino acids (in the walnuts) that increase blood flow to the sexual organs; the breakfast of champions.
In the Americas, the cacao bean has been a sensual prelude and accompaniment to sex since the time of the Mayans and Aztecs. According to legend, ruler Montezuma would indulge in a hot chocolate (known as chocolatl and made from roasted cocoa beans, water, and spices) before checking in on his harem.
The stimulating effects of chocolate are nodded to in the film Chocolat, in which Juliet Binoche’s character wins over a puritanical French town after opening the aptly named ‘La Chocolaterie Maya’. She prescribes one love-starved couple Guatemalan cacao nibs to great success, while her chocolate seashells help out another couple. In her book, Citron cites the theobromine in chocolate as a potential for its stimulating effects as it produces serotonin – widely known as the ‘love hormone’. “Perhaps it’s just a placebo,” she tells me, “but who cares? It works.”
Taboo as it is, chowing down on human flesh, or sucking on the blood of fellow sapiens, has actually been a sexual predilection for hundreds of years. 18th Century French philosopher Donatien Alphonse François, also known as the Marquis de Sade, frequently featured cannibalism in his aggressive erotic works. Famously, in his novel Justine, the Count of Gernande - one of the book’s protagonists - could only reach orgasm after draining his wife of nearly all the blood in her body.
In real life, menstrual blood has been used in Hoodoo love potions in West Africa, in some parts of rural Italy, and by the Baul tribe of Bangladesh, who worship its restorative properties. “The red colour of blood is erotically connected with a fiery temper, zest for life, and vitality. A fiery person ignites the fire of love,” says Christian Ratsch, in Encyclopaedia of Aphrodisiacs.
“The erotic bite of the vampire, teeth sinking into the inviting neck of some luscious young woman, has gone through endless variations,” he continues. Hence why the Twilight novels and Buffy the Vampire Slayer might have fed many a teen fantasy.
Some take cannibalism even further, according to Citron. For example, one particular tribe in Papua New Guinea has perhaps the least appealing sex ritual on the planet: A group of virgin boys take turns in an orgy with one virgin girl, in a shed that sits under a huge pile of heavy logs. While the last boy in the group embraces the girl, the tribe collapse the shed, and trap the pair under the enormous weight of the logs, killing them, before roasting and eating them as a prelude to more sex.
If that sounds like too much effort (not to mention too much mess) don’t fret. “There is no stronger aphrodisiacal stimulant then the desire provoked by one’s own mind”, according to Citron: News that will come as a relief to anyone who doesn’t quite fancy a cannibalistic orgy, or scoffing goats’ testicles.
What the above does prove however, is that should you want to turbocharge your Valentine’s Day, food can help. There’s much more to aphrodisiacs than pseudoscience and old wives’ tales - the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.
Anastasia Miari is a freelance food and travel writer, based between London and Athens. Keep up with her on Instagram.