What do you get when you combine asparagus, black licorice, chili pepper, fennel, figs, ginger, nutmeg, olives, oysters, pomegranate, rhino horn and tomatoes?
The world’s most powerful love potion, if you believe the lore. At one time, in some place, all of these and dozens of other foods, have been considered aphrodisiacs (af-ruh-DEE-zee-aks), said to increase sexual desire or prowess. Some earned their status solely on looks; some because they represented fertility in nature; and others simply because they were the kind of rare ingredient reserved for someone special. A handful have stood the test of science: Oysters are rich in zinc, necessary for producing testosterone. Chili peppers increase heart rates and give us a warm feeling, similar to love.
An aphrodisiac’s power is largely psychological, of course. And some of the notions are dripping with romance—like the legend that pegs the word “honeymoon” to an ancient Persian custom in which secluded newlyweds spend a month gazing at each other and drinking honey wine. The good news for culinary cupids is that the list of alleged aphrodisiacs is so long, it’s easy to find something to cook on Valentine’s Day. No need to run out for rhino horn, unless you’re really craving it.
—By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.