While researching Valentine’s Day recipes, I stumbled upon an ongoing battle between science and tradition. As believers gather rhino horn, cobra’s blood and Spanish fly in the hopes of generating a love stew, scientists insist that aphrodisiacs are nothing more than a fairy tale.
The controversy had “home-brewed kitchen experiment” written all over it. I shut my laptop, abandoned my Valentine’s Day plans and gathered my tools: a sample population consisting of myself and my fiancé (“Test Subject”), a clean kitchen and a notepad. My goal? To boldly cook, serve and eat various aphrodisiacs, and see whether we felt more or less (or neutrally) inclined to fornicate.
My hypothesis, assuming the foods had any effect at all, was threefold: 1. A placebo effect would occur. 2. Putting more effort into our sex life would cause positive change. Or, 3. Aphrodisiacs work.
Background: Foods are granted the honorable title of aphrodisiac for a variety of reasons. For some, it’s because of their resemblance to genitalia. This applies to obviously phallic, such as the banana, and the subtly vaginal, such as the fig. For others, it’s because they actually are genitalia, i.e. the tiger penis, used for soup in China.
Another fun fact: an unnerving number of aphrodisiacs are lethal. By eating them, you will either go down fucking, or you will go down poisoned.
For the amateur chef, such news proves daunting. Daunting, I should say, but not enough to abort the mission. Besides, I had to use foods that could be purchased at a boring Los Angeles grocery store, rendering it unlikely that I would wind up with either genitalia, or anything dangereux.
Aphrodisiac 1: Chili Peppers.
Foods that create a burning sensation are vital members of the aphrodisiac community. They literally get you hot, and they literally get your blood boiling.
I presumed that I would prepare this meal – a nice stir-fry – as I would any other meal: absent-mindedly, and with a glass of wine in hand. Instead, as I began to chop up my jalapeno peppers and Anaheim chiles, I was suddenly overcome by the
“Like Water for Chocolate” nature of the whole thing.
As I pondered it, I half expected the sun to set into a beautiful orange and red and the faint sound of Spanish guitar to waft through my open window. There I was, toiling away in the kitchen using only my hands, my recipe book and centuries of tradition in an attempt to seduce my (semi) unwitting man. I felt wily, almost devious, and the luxury of allowing myself (a science gal, through and through) to buy into a myth was, frankly, sexy and exhilarating.
The results of my meal, though, were far less thrilling. We finished eating without incident, and after about an hour, a contented calm overtook the both of us. It was cozy, but it was no Edward and Bella circa New Moon. We had a ways to go.
Aphrodisiac 2: Vanilla.
Vanilla – a pricey bean, at $12 for two – has been heralded as a ‘disiac primarily for its scent.
The cupcake recipe that would serve as the vehicle for said scent would allow for sufficient wafting, and would also provide enough for consumption. To prepare it, the bean needed to be boiled, its contents then scraped out. And as I cut a long, deep incision down the side of the 4-inch pod, stuck my fingers in it and relieved it of its innards, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat intimate with the little guy. Misguided, but still sensual.
As the scent made its way from kitchen to living room, Test Subject and I put away several of the cakes. About 30 minutes later, we began to feel the same way that we did with the chile peppers: lukewarm. Nice, but a little annoying. When would we reap the carnal rewards?
Well, hard work is a virtue. The tides turned soon enough, with a little help from aphrodisiac #3.
Aphrodisiac 3: Ginger.
Ginger, like chiles, has circulation-promoting effects. Also like chile peppers, I chose to cook it with shrimp.
In fact, I chose to cook it with nutmeg, shrimp, asparagus and garlic – all aphrodisiacs. Enough with the bonding hormones. This time, I was in it to win. I shredded a ginger root by hand. I minced garlic, chopped asparagus, peeled shrimp and sautéed the whole mess. By the time I was done, one could safely say that I had a potent, steaming pile of hot sex on a platter.
And guess what? Iit worked.
But why stop there?
Aphrodisiac 4: Fig.
As I mentioned earlier, the inside of figs are supposed to look like a vulva. This vulva-doppelganger does not require any preparation – they are eaten straight out of the plastic tub. As such, I thought they would make a nice little aphrodisi-snack.
And they did. They didn’t look much like a vulva. In my humble opinion, the inside of a fig looks more like, well, a Fig Newton: seedy, chewy, sweet. Their curvy shape may be a bit sensual, sure. But the vulvic resemblance is a stretch.
Nevertheless, we munched…we munched on one, then another, then another. Nothing. We waited fifteen minutes, then thirty. Still nothing. Not even so much as the desire to hug.
It slowly became apparent that we would have to chalk this attempted shortcut up to…an aphrodisiac fail.
Which is why, for the final ‘dees, I went for the classic.
Aphrodisiac 5: Chocolate.
Ah, chocolate. The go-to aphrodisiac, the ‘disiac for the layman. For my final trick, I whipped up a chocolate buffet. I threw some thick, heavy extra-chocolate frosting on another batch of cupcakes, bust out with a pan of frosted brownies, and slapped together an instant chocolate pudding. And following a light supper, we indulged.
Well, I indulged. Test subject certainly did his fair share of consumption, but I really did the brunt of the heavy lifting.
And a few minutes later, Test Subject gave me the eyes.
I’ll never know why any of it happened — whether aphrodisiacs work, or whether our sporadic success can be attributed to the fact that we were constantly talking and thinking about sex. But I do know that in the learning process, I grew. Our relationship grew. And I’ll leave it at that.