The science of aphrodisiac cuisine is a slippery one: Some studies suggest that the scent of certain foods can trigger sexual reactions, while other foods have been shown to boost sex hormones or contribute to the health of sex organs. For years researchers have analyzed the connection between food and pheromones: chemicals agents emitted by our bodies that incite instinctive reactions—in the case of sex pheromones specifically, desire—in others. We break down the information by ingredient, with scientific insights from health guides and tips from cookbooks on incorporating them. If you’re planning an at-home dinner date, consider throwing a few of these items in. If you’re out at a restaurant, spring for the oysters. Hey, it can’t hurt to try.
Casanova famously ate 50 oysters for breakfast every morning to supercharge his libido, but now hard science is backing up the lothario’s superstition. According to a story in The Telegraph (UK), a team of Italian and American researchers discovered that the mollusk contains two types of amino acids that trigger a “chain reaction of hormones” leading to increased sex drive in both females and males. Prior to these findings, many pointed to oysters’ high quantity of zinc, a mineral present in male sperm.
Scientists say that, for best results, oysters should be eaten raw. The Hog Island Oyster Lover’s Cookbook by Jairemarie Pomo contains 40 variations, as well as rundown of oyster culture (it does exist). For a history of the mollusk, and its libidinous associations, look to Mark Kurlansky’s The Big Oyster.
The Smell & Taste Research Foundation conducted a study to determine which aromas elicited a sexual response in males. In the words of the foundation: “The effects of 30 odors on penile blood flow were assessed by comparing a subject’s brachial penile index while wearing an odorized mask.” The winner of the study? The combined aroma of pumpkin and lavender. (Doughnut and black licorice, together, finished second.)
How aromas—especially in odd combinations—can have such an effect on sex drive (let’s not beat around the bush—lavender and pumpkin increased penile blood flow on average by 40 percent) is one of the many mysteries Rachel Herz, a psychologist and smell expert, plumbs in her book, The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell. To test the findings yourself, try Recipe Lion’s “Lovely Pumpkin and Lavender Mousse Parfait,” The Baking Bird’s “Lavender Pumpkin Bread,”or Eau Flirt, a “love potion” perfume that combines the two.
Calling it “the swizzle stick that can stir up your sex life,” Men’s Health champions celery as a major pheromone-booster for guys. “Every stalk of the stuff is packed with androstenone and androstenol,” they write, “two pheromones that can help you attract women the way trailer parks attract tornadoes.” According to Dr. Manny Alvarez for FOX News, companies have even incorporated androstenene into colognes to capitalize on its chemical punch.
So, great, celery can pump you full of magnetic machismo. Unfortunately the stalky vegetable can be a pain to cook with. That is, unless you have Forks Over Knives, an encyclopedic collection of vegetable-focused recipes, many if not most of which include your stringy, fibrous new best friend.
In one of nature’s crueler jokes, another ingredient containing male pheromone boosters happens to be an infamously expensive mushroom. The truffle is a delicacy that is hunted by pigs in France and tends to show up on the kinds of restaurant menus that don’t include prices. They aren’t “the cheapest additive,” Dr. Alvarez concedes, “but, according to researchers, [they] contain androstenone and androstenol, like celery.”
Patricia Wells’ Simply Truffles contains recipes that bring out the powerful flavor of this “black gold” fungus, as well as stories of its rarefied and decadent history—because if there’s any aphrodisiac more powerful than androstenone, it’s a dash of culinary savoir faire.
Parsnips are a light brown root vegetable that may look like shriveled witch fingers, but they contain a mineral called boron that, according to The Daily Mail, “helps the body [metabolize] and [utilize] estrogen and enhances blood levels of testosterone.”
This piece originally ran in March 2013.