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Can food really get us in the mood?

Can food really get us in the mood?

by Gemma Marti 01 February 2017

With Valentine’s Day approaching, we ask can food really get us in the mood? Or are stories of aphrodisiacs merely old wives’ tales, more in the camp of wishful thinking than empirically proven libido-boosters? Is there any science behind aphrodisiac foods?

Legend has it that Giacomo Casanova, the eighteenth century Italian womaniser, ate fifty oysters for breakfast every single day in order to boost his sex drive. Yes, I know what you are all thinking: 'Didn’t the queasiness that must inevitably come from eating fifty oysters in a row, get in the way of lovemaking?' Well, apparently not, if the memoirs dedicated to his many romantic shenanigans are to be believed. Even in his time, the bivalve molluscs he repeatedly indulged in were deemed to be the key to his many successes with the opposite sex. So were oysters genuinely affecting his libido, or was it all a matter of autosuggestion?

Many of us like to believe food makes us frisky, even if our own intimate lives are far more low-key than Casanova’s operatic affairs. It’s easy to see why. Some of the foods we give aphrodisiac attributes to are living sensual metaphors, phallic or otherwise – without being too graphic, we’re referring to bananas, asparagus, figs or the aforementioned oysters (use your imagination).

With that in mind, it’s only natural that one should see a clam and instantly be in the mood for love, isn't it?

But what about watermelon, also thought to be an aphrodisiac? What does a watermelon resemble that would make schoolchildren giggle? The answer is nothing. In this case, the claim has a scientific base. According to 2008 research from Texas A&M University’s department of horticultural sciences, watermelon contains an amino acid that relaxes blood vessels, improves blood flow and increases arousal. And all that despite being 92% water! Good old watermelon – such an inconspicuous, unassuming, modest fruit.

And it doesn’t stop here. For example, chillies are full to the brim with capsaicin, which not only gets our blood pumping like our good friend watermelon, but also stimulates nerve endings, making us feel switched on.

Which brings me to chocolate, the go-to gift on Valentine’s Day. Chocolate has enjoyed an aphrodisiac reputation since the time of emperor Montezuma, when the bean was used as part of sacred rites and to fuel sexual desire. Today – and this may come as a shock – there is evidence that chocolate is perhaps no more than a tasty placebo. Most researchers now believe that the chemicals found in chocolate that make us feel happy and warm inside are not concentrated enough to have a measurable effect on chocoholics’ libido.

So, are you going to plan your Valentine’s dinner with aphrodisiac ingredients in mind? Do you believe some foods have the power to get us in the mood? Or is it all based on superstition that has been glorified and perpetuated through the ages? What do you think?

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