Can certain foods promote desire, or is it just in our head? For over 400 years people have been seeking out foods that spark romance; from the Aztecs to Casanova, many believe in the mystical powers of food to seduce a partner. From a scientific standpoint however, is it more fantasy than fact?
Since 1989 the FDA has maintained a position that aphrodisiacs are myths, not based in science. In 2005 however, scientists discovered amino acids in oysters that play a role in hormone synthesis, increasing testosterone and progesterone in male and female rodents. The high zinc content of oysters might also help improve fertility.
Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine, similar to caffeine, which increases alertness. Chocolate also increases serotonin in the brain, a feel good chemical which elevates our mood.
Hot chilies release capsaicin, a chemical which triggers increased heart rate, waves of heat, flushing cheeks, and sweating. It also triggers endorphins, another feel good chemical, helping to elevate our mood.
When it comes to lowering inhibitions alcohol can be hard to beat. Small amounts of alcohol may spark romance, however too much can hinder it. The amount of alcohol that would impede driving seems to impede romance as well; stick to 1-2 drinks instead.
The scent of a pleasing aroma can activate the hypothalamus gland, an area of the brain that controls memory and emotion. Studies from Chicago’s Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation found the top scents for men included lavender and pumpkin pie as well as licorice and doughnuts. For women top scents included licorice and cucumber as well as lavender and pumpkin pie. Interestingly male colognes resulted in a negative reaction for women.
Overall the physical characteristics of certain foods do a very good job at appealing to the mind, more so than their chemical properties to stimulate desire. Even so, the placebo effect can have a strong impact on many people. After all, all is fair in the game of love and war.