amed after Greek love goddess Aphrodite, aphrodisiacs were identified by early civilizations and cultures that associated potency and virility with power and prosperity. Their fascination has lingered over millennia. Though science has yet to prove a link between rumored “romance remedies” and increased sexual performance, aphrodisiacs still thrive.
Sex can drive humans to brutal solutions. The extinction of the northern white rhino is due in part to the fine powder made from its horn as a potent aphrodisiac. Other nonsense includes consuming animal testicles and turtles’ eggs. Lack of evidence aside, the massacre continues.
Instead of decimating endangered species, the best way to heighten a romantic experience is simply to browse your pantry. Though science may shrug, some enzymes and vitamins contained in everyday foods do lend varying stimulant effects.
Italians like to think of themselves as fantastic lovers, ascribing their sexual prowess to their mamma’s cooking. If you agree, here’s an alphabetical index of Italian aphrodisiac ingredients to include in your next date night menu.
Almond: The almond has been associated with fertility for centuries. Just ask anyone in the Sicilian town of Avola, which produces three kinds. The almond is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, needed to produce testosterone, the hormone that gives heft to male arousal.
Artichoke: From the 16th century through the Spanish Inquisition, artichokes were forbidden to women because of the plant’s reputed ability to enhance erotic energy. Nowadays, nutritionists praise their high antioxidant count and healthy nutrients, such as iron. The Italian artichoke season runs from February to May. To market, to market!
Arugula: The ubiquitous leafy green, bitter to the taste, has been used as an arousal aid since ancient Greece. Science backs up these claims, since trace minerals and antioxidants block environmental contaminants that have been known to harm libido.
Asparagus: Here’s a spear-like vegetable that actually looks like an aphrodisiac. Its high concentration of vitamin E, stimulate reproductive hormones in both men and women. Italy boasts several varieties of the plant. Asparagus also contain high levels of vitamin B, which increase histamine, an important chemical for healthy libido in both sexes. As a bonus, it contains folate, important to reproductive health in both genders.
Basil: The pillar of Italian cuisine has been a symbol of love since ancient Rome (when it was used as a decorative motif in brothels). In modern times, basil has been studied for its anti-inflammatory properties and its libido enhancing nutrients. It also contains high levels of vitamin A, beta-carotene, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C: nutrients that promote a healthy sex life.
Celery: In the “Odyssey,” Homer describes the nymph Calypso’s island (where she held Odysseus as a lover) as surrounded by wild celery. The plant is also credited to giving Giacomo Casanova his legendary stamina. The scent of celery contains elevated amounts of the pheromone androsterone.
Cherry Cherries are said to boost pheromone production and promote healthy blood flow, both of which are beneficial between the sheets. In Italy, cherries get suggestively allusive names such as adriana, amarena, visciola, marasca, graffione, durone, tenerina, giorgia, malizia, moretta and marosticana, to mention a few.
Chili pepper: When an Italian calls you pepperoncino, the innuendo behind “firecracker” or “feisty” is more like, “Let’s do it.” Chili peppers contain a chemical, capsaicin, known to boost testosterone and increase libido. Chili peppers also have the ability to release endorphins. The body’s response to this is accelerated heartbeat, elevated body temperature and dilated pupils: voilà enhanced erotic experience.
Chocolate: The Aztecs, who ingested cacao to stimulate desire, have been made into sages. Cioccolato contains tryptophan, a building block of serotonin (the feel-good molecule), as well as phenyl ethylamine, a natural stimulant related to amphetamine.
Coffee: The world’s most socially widespread beverage increases blood flow and raises heart rates. Coffee can also increase levels of dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter associated with the body’s pleasure receptors.
Fig: Figs are the perfect treat for lovers: they’re soft, plump and sweet. And they are also rich in amino acids, known to increase stamina.
Honey: In ancient times, newly married couples would drink mead (an alcoholic drink of fermented honey and water) until the first moon after the ceremony, the literal honeymoon. Nutritionally speaking, honey contains boron, a chemical that regulates estrogen and testosterone levels, as well as nitric oxide, which is released in the body when in an aroused state.
Olive oil: The medicinal properties of olive oil have been known for centuries. Packed with antioxidants, olive oil is a good source of mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fats, which promote a healthy heart, smooth blood flow and regulated hormone levels.
Oyster: The Venetian playboy Giacomo Casanova was rumored to enjoy oysters as a vitality booster, but the bivalve mollusk was considered an aphrodisiac long before he began his carousing: A recent study found that D-Aspartic acid, contained in oysters, increases testosterone in sedentary men. Oysters also contain high levels of zinc, a mineral that’s beneficial to the male reproductive system.
Pomegranate: Pomegranates were Aphrodite’s symbol. Inside the antioxidant-rich fruit are scores of juicy little seeds associated with fertility and abundance. Proven fact: consuming pomegranate juice lowers cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and increases testosterone.
Strawberry: From a nutritional standpoint, red heart-shaped fragile are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, good for vitality and blood flow. They also contain minerals such as magnesium, potassium and folate.
Truffle: The aroma of truffles is said to mimic the male pheromone androsterone. Aside from that, <i>tartufi</i> are high in proteins that promote stamina and energy.
Watermelon: A recent study discovered that watermelon contains enzymes capable of relaxing the blood vessels in the groin, and that may even increase libido. Anyone want a slice?