The Aphrodisiac Alphabet

Recipes | | February 10, 2010 at 10:27 am
Photo by Aussie Gall.

Photo by Aussie Gall.

Throughout history, certain foods have gained the reputation of being aphrodisiacs but what does this term really mean? In most cases the distinction is a myth or an old wives’ tale but is there some truth to the folklore? Few scientific studies have been carried out in the matter but that’s never stopped people from believing, for thousands of years, that certain foods can affect their love lives.

In ancient times, particular foods were sought out to increase fertility and sex drive because basically, we used to believe this:

  1. If a food resembles genitalia, it possesses sexual powers! For example, bananas, carrots, and asparagus have a phallic shape, whereas other foods like oysters, and figs (when cut) can be decidedly vaginal.
  2. If an object represents seeds or semen (caviar, eggs, nuts, and bulbs like garlic and onions), it increases fertility.
  3. If a food brings heat, excitement or relaxation (either by taste, touch or smell), it can be sexually arousing. Chocolate and coffee excite the body with caffeine, alcohol relaxes and releases inhibitions, and other foods like vanilla can stimulate the body and mind with just a whiff.

Here’s my modern alphabet of aphrodisiacs:

  • Almonds and other nuts: Almonds are a longtime symbol of fertility and the aroma is said to induce passion in females (the fragrance is often used in women’s beauty products for this reason). Walnuts and pine nuts have been purported to enhance fertility since ancient Roman times. Pine nuts are also rich in zinc, so like oysters, they can treat impotence.
  • Anise: Toted for its aphrodisiac properties by the ancient Greeks and the Romans, and a great licorice-flavored addition to many recipes.
  • Arugula: These fresh leafy greens have been termed an aphrodisiac since the first century A.D. Great when added to pastas, in salads (see below), and can be substituted for basil in homemade pestos.
  • Basil: Said to stimulate the libido, enhance fertility and create an overall sense of well-being for the body.
  • Chocolate: There is no doubt that eating chocolate makes you feel good. Read all the effects chocolate has on your brain here.
  • Figs: A sliced open fig emulates the female sex organs in appearance and is toted as a sexual stimulant. And hey, it’s a delicious sweet or savory snack.
  • Garlic: The ‘heat’ in garlic is rumored to arouse sexual desires but I assume this only works if you and your partner BOTH enjoy garlic together!
  • Ginger: A stimulant to the circulatory system, ginger can awaken the senses.
  • Oysters: Perhaps the most infamous of all the aphrodisiacs, slippery little oysters are full of zinc. Zinc controls progesterone levels, which can have a positive effect on the libido, and can prevent impotence in men.
  • Raspberries and Strawberries: Both of these sweet berries are high in vitamin C, and are the perfect size to feed to your lover, dipped in chocolate or softly whipped cream!
  • Vanilla: The aroma of vanilla is believed to increase lust.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, create a menu chock full of  these ‘lusty’ ingredients to serve to your sweetheart, or at an anti-Valentine’s dinner party with your fabulous single friends. Try these tempting recipes and let us know if they inspire anything special afterward!

Photo by Author

Photo by Author.

I love this salad because it has a great sweet and savory taste, it uses my favorite lettuce, the slightly bitter arugula, and because it has a great presentation on the plate.  Serves 4.


  • 8 ounces baby arugula
  • 1/2 cup shaved asiago cheese
  • 12 sliced strawberries
  • 1/2 cup toasted, chopped almonds or walnuts, or candied nuts for extra sweetness
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced, dried figs


Photo by Author

Photo by Author.


  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon finely chopped shallot
  • 1/2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Toss all salad ingredients together in a large bowl.  Whisk all dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. Drizzle dressing over salad and toss.  Firmly press salad into a small cup (as pictured). Invert cup onto serving plate and remove cup. The dressing will be the ‘glue’ that holds the salad in formation.  NOTE: do not dress to far in advance to avoid excessive wilting.

Try these decadent treats that yield a refreshing “pop” when you bite into them.  The perfect end to a romantic meal. Serves 4.

  • 1 large or 2 medium pomegranate, enough to yield scant cup 1 cup (8 ounces) pomegranate arils
  • 2/3 cup (4 ounces) organic bittersweet chocolate chips, such as Ghirardelli 60% or other high quality dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
  • 1/4 teaspoon curry powder or chili powder (optional—but I think it really “spices things up!”)
  • 1/4 cup fresh spearmint or peppermint, stemmed and julienned

Photo Courtesy of McCheeck

Photo Courtesy of McCheeck

Score the pomegranate and place in a bowl of water.  Gently, break it open with your hands under water to let the arils (the little pods) sink to the bottom and the membrane float to the top.  Rinse and drain in a colander, and lay out a paper towel to absorb any excess moisture. Melt chocolate chips in a heavy-bottomed small saucepan over low-to-medium heat stirring frequently, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove saucepan from the burner. Add pomegranate seeds and stir in curry/chili powder, if desired.  Use a fork to scoop out small chocolate-covered clusters, and place each on a wax paper lined plate. Garnish with mint. Refrigerate until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes.  Viola!  Serve with a glass of heavy Cabernet or chilled Champagne.

LauraLaura Seery creates memorable events for San Diego's most discerning eaters at Culinary Concepts Catering. A graduate of University of California, San Diego and a self-taught chef, Laura enjoys writing for her blog about all things delicious, nutritious and green.

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