What is the food of love?
Do claimed food aphrodisiacs really do the trick? Richard Cornish investigates the only way he knows how.
The brief appeared simple: Identify readily available food aphrodisiacs and see whether they work. Our list needed to be legal and ethical, so shark fin, rhino horn and tiger penis were out. It was my task to consume them in a bland environment, with no chance of any stimulation or excitement. I settled for my home office. I turned off the wi-fi and covered my reference library with a sheet to obscure the spines of lascivious books such as The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia and The History of English Food by Clarissa Dickson Wright.
After consuming each food, I took note of any changes in pulse, temperature and inclinations towards any procreative behaviours.
In theory: Asparagus is packed with folic acid, essential for producing histamine in the body, which plays an important role in "the climb to ecstasy", as they say in the romance classics. Some of its aromas have what is sometimes described as "the scent of honeymooners".
In practice: Given the season, the asparagus we found had been imported from Mexico and was shrivelled and bordering on flaccid with just a hint of "honeymoon" aroma.
1/10 Limp produce maintains status quo.
In theory: The original avocados were small and looked like elongated eggs, which is why the Aztecs of Meso America called them ahuacatl, or testes. Modern avocados are more curvaceous, and the velvety texture of the flesh is meant to evoke an erotic mindset.
In practice: Eating an avocado blindfolded, the soft flesh was perfectly smooth and wonderfully slippery in the mouth. We mashed another sample for guacamole which was more reminiscent of baby food than making babies.
4/10 Smooth, cool and voluptuous.
In theory: The obvious suggestive shape is nothing compared to the chemical war-chest of sex aids. There's bromelain, an enzyme thought to prolong a man's performance; tryptophan, which metabolises as the feel-good serotonin; and eating a banana also stimulates the release in the brain of dopamine.
In practice: The shorter length and lesser girth of our lady finger banana was not nearly as impressive as, say, a plantain. It could have been all that natural sugar, but eating this perfectly ripe banana gave me a bit of a feel-good buzz and the aroma reminded me of the esters in wheat beer, which is always good.
5/10 "I feel good. I knew that I would now." - James Brown
In theory: It was a fig, according to some scholars, not an apple, that Eve offered Adam. Figs contain polyphenols, antioxidants and flavonoids linked to prolonged sexual performance.
In practice: A ripe fig is a truly sensual experience, a weighty little morsel that opens to reveal ripe red flesh. A truly committed fig eater will pry it apart with their fingers and pull the ripe flesh and seeds into their mouth. Losing one's self in a truly ripe fig is a uniquely pleasurable experience. They should be picked straight from the tree; the ones we tested cost a less-than-sexy $60 a kilogram.
5/10 Let your mind go a wanderin' in these globes of sweet flesh.
In theory: Hot, red and phallic, chillies contain a compound called capsaicin, a powerful irritant that protects the seed-bearing parts of the plant from pest attack. We describe this irritation as "heat" and it produces pain-killing endorphins, which we find pleasurable. Capsaicin can increase the heart rate and dilate the blood vessels.
In practice: In Mexico, everything, including a dozen carnitas washed down with half a dozen warm cervezas, is an aphrodisiac. For this test we bought a ripe red chilli the greengrocer couldn't name. Sweet and mild initially, it produced a warm tingling then a pleasantly painful sensation in the mouth, lips and tongue. To those preparing chillies for a lover, wear gloves during handling, as any capsaicin on your fingers could cause more pain than pleasure later.
6/10 "It's a fine line between pleasure and pain / You've done it once, you can do it again." - Divinyls, 1985.
In theory: Contains theobromine, which raises the heart rate and dilates blood vessels in the same way as sex; phenylethylamine, which is found in higher quantities in the brain when first in love; and tryptophan, which breaks down into serotonin, which also increases during lovemaking.
In practice: Eating dark, 70 per cent chocolate made from beans grown on a small plantation on the Solomon Islands, I was astounded by the complex fruity, smoky, dark and tropical aromas. It was a sensory island holiday. With a cocktail of love drugs and the chocolate's caffeine running through my veins I can honestly say this is a pleasure kickstarter. Warning. Stop at a few pieces.
7/10 Happy endings come in silver foil.
In theory: Most of us know that oysters contain zinc, essential in sperm production. Oysters also produce amino acids such as tyrosine which we metabolise into dopamine. The contours of the oyster's membranes and creamy salty zing are described as the yin and yan of sex itself.
In practice: The unseasonally hot weather meant there was no way I could get oysters the long way back home safely. So I asked my fishmonger to freshly shuck six (freshly shucked is the only way to go) and ate them on the spot - fat, succulent rock oysters, the briny taste and tang of iodine balanced by their overt creaminess.
8/10 A dozen of these and the world is your oyster.
In theory: For many people, a few drinks will make them less anxious and more altruistic, inhibit protective behaviours and bolster the ego. When two people drink alcohol together the alcohol doesn't act as an aphrodisiac, but it does dissolve the social and personal barriers that would otherwise get in the way of them getting it on.
In practice: Alcohol and shacking up with someone for a night, or much longer, is a tried and tested recipe. But drinking alone or a lot doesn't make you sexier.
9/10 Tippling can be titillating.
Sunday Star Times