It’s AsiaSpa’s Love issue, so what better time to talk about aphrodisiacs. Known since the times of Ancient Greece for their abilities to arouse sexual desire, the term ‘aphrodisiac’ is said to have come about during the cult festivals of Aphrodite – the rousing events held in the name of the Goddess of Love that often ended in wild orgies.
Over the ages, certain foods have become known the world over for their stimulating properties. The ancient Aztecs believed to have first discovered the feel-good virtues of chocolate – a bite or two of a dark bar releases mood relaxing serotonin.
Mangoes have long been prescribed to boost virility across Asia. First, their supple and shapely appearance was likened to reproductive organs and flirted with our senses, but later the fruit’s high vitamin E content, known to help to balance sex hormones, was thought to help keep us in the mood. Honey is thought to have birthed the word ‘honeymoon’ because newly-weds in Middle England were given honey-filled mead after their nuptials, and the heat from chilli peppers has become well known for its ability to spice things up in the sack. Surely, though, the most famous aphrodisiac of them all has to be oysters, beloved by the world’s most famous lover, Casanova.
So how do these stimulating foods impact our bodies? “The way aphrodisiacs work is actually quite simple,” says medical nutritionist Karin Reiter, of Nutritious N’ Delicious. “For both men and women, they impact the sexual hormones, mainly testosterone but can also impact processes in the body, for example increased blood flow in sexual organs, which mimic sexual intercourse.”
Yet, in recent years, science may have caught up with storytelling. Reiter says modern science split regarding the true impact of well-known aphrodisiacs. “Whereas some studies have shown that certain foods would be beneficial for your sex life; for example oysters, seeds and nuts contain very high levels of zinc, which is crucial to the production of testosterone; most mainstream academic research found weak or non-existing links,” she says.
Still, new aphrodisiacs keep arriving and appear to be nudging some of the traditional foods of love over. Maca, a root found in the Andes, is one. Used by the Incans in Peru for fertility for centuries, it is thought to help relieve the symptoms of menopause and useful for treating erectile dysfunction. Despite growing in harsh conditions thousands of miles away, demand for the root is currently hot across Asia, increasingly found there in powder form. With a similar flavour profile, maca easily replaces ginger in recipes, with a few added benefits.
Ginkgo biloba and ginseng are two other ancient healers now recognised globally for their aphrodisiac qualities. The Chinese have long turned to ginkgo to aid sexual heath, while more recent scientific studies suggest ginseng could help with erectile dysfunction. Try ginseng in chicken broth when you are in need of an extra warming glow.
The general health properties in avocados have peaked in popularity, but their high vitamin E level also aids the body in producing testosterone or oestrogen, which are helpful in maintaining an even libido. This is nothing new to the Aztecs, who called the trees Ahuacuatl, or testicle trees. Whipping up a bowl of guacamole might be a good move if you are looking to enhance success in the bedroom, and is made especially effective with the addition of capsaicin-loaded chilli. “Spicy food increases body heat and pulse rate, and helps release endorphins which puts us in a great sexual mood,” Reiter says.
Not sure whether you are in or out when it comes to aphrodisiacs? Most experts say that there’s nothing wrong with giving these wonder foods a whirl. “Sometimes the placebo effect can be huge, so if someone eats a mango and believes it’s an aphrodisiac, it will have a positive effect on his sexual libido,” says Reiter. And coincidentally, most aphrodisiacs come loaded with healthy doses of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals, so even if they don’t have the desired effects under the sheets, you should feel good about being kind to your body.
And as for our nutrition expert? Karin Reiter says she’ll be sticking to a tried-and-tested favourite this month. “I always feel in the mood after having fresh oysters with some lime,” she says, “And of course, some bubbly on the side!”